To all the faithful in Christ established both in the city of Metz and in its diocese. Laymen should not preach, nor organize secret assemblies, nor find fault with priests. (Issued at the Lateran.)
Since, according to the duty of apostleship assigned to us, we have become, as the Apostle says, debtors "to the wise and to the unwise", we are required to be concerned for the salvation of everyone, so that we may both lead back evil men from their vices, and foster good men in their virtues. There is, then, need for greater discretion, when vices enter secretly under the guise of virtues, and the angel of Satan deceitfully transforms himself into an angel of the light.
Truly our venerable brother the bishop of Metz has signified to us in his letter that both in the diocese and in the city of Metz the multitude of laymen and women, drawn in no small way by desire, have had the Scriptures, Gospels, the Pauline epistles, the Psalter, the commentaries on Job and many other books translated for their own use into the French language, exerting themselves towards this kind of translation so willingly, but not so prudently, that in secret meetings the laymen and women dare to discuss such matters between themselves, and to preach to each other: they also reject their community, do not intermingle with similar people, and consider themselves separate from them, and do not align their ears and minds with them; when any of the parish priests wished to censure them concerning these matters, they stood firm before them, trying to argue from the Scriptures that they should not be prohibited in any way from doing these things. Some of them also scorned the simplicity of their priests; and when the Word of Salvation is shown to them by those priests, they grumble in secret that they understand the Word better in their little books and that they can explain it more prudently.
But although the desire to understand the divine Scriptures, and, according to the Scriptures themselves, the zeal to spread them, is not forbidden, but is rather commendable, nevertheless the arguments against it appear well-deserved, because those who do not adhere to such arguments celebrate their assemblies in secret, usurp for themselves the duty of preaching, mock the simplicity of the priests and reject their community. For God, the true light, which illuminates all men coming into this world, hates such works of darkness so much that when he was about to send his apostles out into the world to preach the Gospel to all creation, he ordered them clearly, saying: "That which I tell you in the dark, speak ye in the light: and that which you hear in the ear, preach ye upon the housetops"; announcing openly in this way that the preaching of the Gospel must not be carried out in hidden communities, as heretics do, but in churches in the Catholic manner. For according to the testimony of Truth, "every one that doth evil hateth the light and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved. But he that doth truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest: because they are done in God."
Because of this, when the high priest "asked Jesus of his disciples and of his doctrine, Jesus answered him: I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in the synagogue and in the temple, whither all the Jews resort: and in secret I have spoken nothing." Furthermore, if anyone objects that according to the Lord's command "give not that which is holy to dogs; neither cast ye your pearls before swine", since Christ himself also said "unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables", he should understand that dogs and pigs are not things which happily bring holiness and willingly accept pearls, but things which tear apart holiness and scorn pearls, just like those who do not venerate the words of the Gospel and the ecclesiastical sacraments as Catholics, but rather detest them as heretics, who are always chattering and blaspheming, whom the apostle Paul teaches should be avoided "after the first and second admonition."
The mysteries of the sacraments of faith should not be explained everywhere to everyone, since they cannot be understood everywhere by everyone, but only to those who can conceive of them by their faithful intellect. Because of this the Apostle said to the simpler people: "As unto little ones in Christ I gave you milk to drink, not meat." For "strong meat is for the perfect", as he said to others: "we speak wisdom among the perfect;" "for I judged not myself to know anything among you, but Jesus Christ: and him crucified." Such is the profundity of divine Scripture, that not only simple and illiterate men, but even prudent and learned men do not fully suffice to investigate its wisdom. Because of this Scripture says: "They have failed in their search." From this it was rightly once established in divine law that the beast which touches the mountain should be stoned; that is, so that no simple and unlearned man presumes to concern himself with the sublimity of sacred Scripture, or to preach it to others.
For it is written: "seek not the things that are too high for thee." Because of this the Apostle said: "not to be more wise than it behoveth to be wise, but to be wise unto sobriety". For just as there are many limbs of the body, yet the limbs do not have the same function: so there are many orders in the Church, but not all of them have the same duty; because according to the Apostle: "And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and other some evangelists, and other some pastors and doctors," etc. Since therefore the order of doctors is particular to the Church, no one should indifferently usurp the duty of preaching for himself. For, according to the Apostle: "And how shall they preach unless they be sent?" And Truth itself ordered the apostles: "Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that he send labourers into his harvest."
If anyone perhaps responds shrewdly to this that such men are sent invisibly by God, even if they are not visibly sent by man, since an invisible mission is much more worthy than a visible one, and a divine mission is far better than a human one (from which John the Baptist is not said to be sent by man, but by God, just as the Evangelist witnesses: "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John"), it can and should certainly be answered reasonably that when that inner mission is hidden, it does not suffice for anyone to assert so boldly that he is sent by God, since any heretic may profess this: but it is necessary that he proves that invisible mission by the working of miracles or by special testimony of the Scriptures. From which, when the Lord wanted to sent Moses into Egypt to the sons of Israel, he gave him a sign, that he might change a staff into a snake, and change the snake back again into a staff, so that they would believe that he was sent by God. John the Baptist also offered a special testimony of his mission from Scripture, responding to the priests and Levites who had been sent to interrogate him about who he was and why he had taken the duty of baptizing upon himself: "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaias."
Therefore he who says that he is sent by God should not be believed, since he has not been sent by man, unless he personally offers special testimony from Scripture, or he shows an obvious miracle. For the Evangelist also testifies about those who are said to be sent by God, that after setting out they preached everywhere, while God cooperates and confirms their speech with sign after sign. However, although knowledge of doctrine is quite necessary for priests, because according to the word of the Prophet, "the lips of the priests shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth"; nevertheless knowledge should not be drawn forth by simple priests, or even by scholars, since the priestly ministry should be honoured by them. Because of this the Lord ordered in the law: "Thou shalt not speak ill of the gods", which is here understood as priests, who, because of the excellence of their position and the dignity of their office, are referred to as gods. According to this, in another place he spoke about the slave who willingly remains in the house of his lord, that the lord should offer him to the gods.
Since, according to the word of the Apostle, the slave "to his own lord standeth or falleth", surely a priest should be chastized in the spirit of clemency by the bishop, to whose correction he was subjected, acting out of clemency, but should not be reprehended by the people, for whose correction he was made responsible, acting out of pride; since according to the Lord's command the mother and father should not be cursed, but rather honoured: this should be understood to refer rather more definitely to the spiritual father than the worldly father.
Nor should anyone defend by that example the boldness of his presumption, because the ass is said to have reprehended the prophet , or because the Lord said, "which of you shall convince me of sin?" and "if I have spoken evil, give testimony of the evil.", since it is one thing to chastise a brother sinning secretly in himself (which certainly everyone does according to the evangelical rule: in which case surely it can be understood that Balaam was chastised by the ass), and it is another to openly reprehend one's father, even if he is doing wrong, and especially to accuse him of being simple when he is only foolish: this is certainly not permitted to anyone according to the truth of the Gospel. For he who speaks foolishly even to his brother, will be punished in hell.
Furthermore it is one thing that a prelate, having confessed his innocence, willingly subjects himself to the accusation of his subordinates (in which case the aforementioned word of the Lord should be understood), and it is another thing where a subordinate, with a mind not only for rebuking, but for drawing away, boldly rises up against the prelate, when rather it remains necessary to yield to him. Because if perhaps necessity demanded that a useless or unworthy priest should be removed from the care of his flock, it should be done in the proper manner by the bishop, whose duty is known to pertain to both the instituting and removing of priests.
But that second example should be despised by all, as if it proceeds from the arrogance of the Pharisees, because those people despise others, acting as if they alone are correct; and since from the beginning of the birth of the Church up to now there have been many holy men, who were said neither to have acted in such ways, nor to have adhered to them, although they are said to have reacted against such matters from the beginning: who, if they are not content to be taught rather than to teach, will perhaps pertain to those things about which the Lord said: "Be ye not many masters."
Therefore, my sons, because we love you like a father, lest under the pretext of truth you fall into the fostering of error, and under the guise of virtues fall into the trap of vices, we ask all of you attentively, we command and urge you in the Lord, enjoining upon you in the remission of sins, that you recall your tongue and mind from those things which we noted above as reprehensible, observing the Catholic faith and the ecclesiastical rule, lest it happens that you are surrounded by, or even surround yourself with, fallacious words: because unless you receive our correction and paternal admonition humbly and devotedly, afterwards we will pour in oil and wine , applying ecclesiastical severity; so that those who did not wish to obey of their own free will, may even reluctantly learn to acquiesce.
Issued at the Lateran.
- Romans 1:14. All translations are from the Douay-Rheims version.
- Bertram (1180-1212).
- By Gregory the Great.
- Matthew 10:27.
- John 3:20-21.
- John 18:19-20.
- Matthew 7:6.
- Luke 8:10.
- Titus 3:10.
- I Corinthians 3:1-2.
- Hebrews 5:14.
- I Corinthians 2:6.
- 1 Corinthians 2:2.
- Psalms 63:7.
- Hebrews 20:12.
- Ecclesiasticus 3:20.
- Romans 12:3.
- 1 Corinthians 12.
- Ephesians 4:11. "Doctors" here means "teachers."
- Romans 10:15.
- Luke 10:2.
- John 1:6.
- John 1:23.
- Malachi 2:7.
- Exodus 22:28.
- Reminiscent of Isaiah 50.
- Romans 14:4.
- The original commandment is Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16, but this wording is reminiscent of Jesus' comment in Mark 7:10.
- The story of Balaam and the ass, Numbers 22:30.
- John 8:46.
- John 18:23.
- Matthew 5:22.
- Matthew 23.
- James 3:1.
- Luke 10:34.
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