The Right Ordering of Christian Life

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The Right Ordering of Christian Life  (1903) 
by Pope Leo XIII
As translated in the 1903 The Great Encyclical Letters of Pope Leo XIII

THE RIGHT ORDERING OF CHRISTIAN LIFE.

Encyclical Letter Exeunte Jam Anno, December 25, 1888.

At the close of the year in which, by the sirxgular bless- ing and benefit of God, We have in sound health cele- brated the fiftieth anniversary of Our priesthood, We naturally look back upon the past months, and with great pleasure recall to memory each and all of them. And not without reason; for while the event, so far as it regarded Us personally, was of itself neither great nor wonderful, it has moved the hearts of men in an unusual manner, and has been celebrated with so many manifesta- tions of joy and congratulation that nothing was left to be desired. This general joy was indeed most pleasing to Us, and most gratifying; but what We valued most in connection with it was the significance of these heartfelt demonstrations, and the constancy of faith which they so unmistakably displayed. For the congratulations which came to Us from all sides expressed clearly this fact, that in all places the minds and hearts of men are turned to the Vicar of Jesus Christ; that, in the many evils which press upon us from every quarter, men look with con- fidence to the Apostolic See as to an ever-flowing and ever-pure source of salvation; and that, in every land where the Catholic religion flourishes, the Roman Church, mother and mistress of all churches, is reverenced and honored, as is right and fitting, with one mind and with ardent love.

For these reasons We have often during the past months lifted up Our eyes to the ever holy and eternal God, in thanksgiving for the most gracious gift of life bestowed

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THE RIGHT ORDERING OF CHRISTIAN LIFE. 165

upon Us, and for the many consolations vouchsafed to Us in Our sorrows; and during all this time We have used every occasion of shownng Our gratitude to those to whom it was due. Now, however, the closing days of the year and of the Jubilee bid Us renew the recollection of benefits received; and, to Our very great satisfaction, the whole Church is joining with us in fresh thanksgi\'ing. At the same time We anxiously wish by this letter to declare publicly that as so many testimonies of devotion and kindness and love have done much to hghten Our burden, so too a grateful remembrance of them will live always in Our mind.

But a holier and higher duty yet remains. For, in this affectionate and extraordinary eagerness to show honor to the Roman Pontiff, We seem called upon to acknowledge the power and the design of God, who often draws, and alone can draw, the beginnings of great good from events of the smallest moment. For God, in His most loving providence, seems to have -vvashed to arouse faith in the midst of widespread disbehef, and to recall the Christian people to the pursuit of a higher life. Where- fore we must strive diligently that, laying the foundation of good, a favorable change may be inaugurated, and that the intentions of God may be both understood and put in practice. The obedience shown to the Apostolic See will indeed be full and perfect, if, joined with the admiration for Christian virtue, it lead to the salvation of souls — the only end worth seeking, and one which will abide forever.

In the exercise of the high Apostolic office bestowed upon Us by the goodness of God, We have many times, as in duty bound, undertaken the defence of truth, and have striven to expound particularly that teaching which seemed the most opportune for the public welfare, so that, in seeking the truth, all might watchfully and care- fully avoid the dangers of error. But now, as a lo\ing parent of his children, We wish to address all Christians,


res'- THE RIGHT ORDERING OF CHRISTIAN LIFE.

and in simple homely words to exhort all and each to lead a holy life. For, beyond the mere profession of faith. Christian virtues and practices are necessary for the Christian; and upon these depend, not only the eternal salvation of souls, but also the stable peace and true pros- perity of the human family and of society.

If we inquire into the kind of life men everywhere lead, it is impossible for any one to avoid the conclusion that public and private morals differ vastly from the precepts of the Gospel. Too sadly, alas! do the words of the apostle St. John apply to our age: All that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupis- cence of the eyes, and the pride of life} For in truth most men, with little heed as to whence they have come or whither they are going, place all their thoughts and all their care upon the vain and fleeting goods of this life; and, contrary to nature and right order, they voluntarily give themselves up to serve things of which their reason tells them they should be the masters. It is a short step from the desire of comfort and luxury to the striving after the means to obtain them. Hence arises the un- bridled eagerness to become rich which binds those whom it possesses, and while they are seeking the gratification of their passion, hurries them along, often without refer- ence to justice or injustice, and not infrequently even with insolent contempt for the penury of others. Thus very many who live in luxury call themselves the breth- ren of the multitudes whom in the depths of their hearts they despise. With minds puffed up with pride, they strive to be subject to no law and to have respect for no authority. They call self-love liberty, and think themselves horn free like a wild ass's colt.^ Snares and temptations to sin abound ; impious and unmoral dramas are exhibited on the stage; books and the daily press jeer at virtue and ennoble crime; and the fine arts themselves, which were intended for virtuous use and for rightful recreation, are

> 1 John ii. 16. ' Job xi. 12.


THE RIGHT ORDERING OF CHRISTIAN LIFE. 167

made to minister to depraved passions. Nor can we look to the future without fear; for new seeds of evil are con- tinually being sown broadcast in the hearts of the rising generation. As for the public schools, it is well known to you that there is no ecclesiastical authority left in them; and during the years when tender minds should be trained carefully and conscientiously in Christian virtue, the precepts of religion are for the most part even left un- taught. Youths somewhat advanced in age encounter a still graver peril, namely, from evil teaching; which is of such a kind as to deceive them by misleading words, instead of filling them with a knowledge of what is true. For many nowadays seek to learn truth by the aid of reason alone, putting divine faith entirely aside; and, through the exclusion of this strength and of this light, they fall into many errors and fail to discover the truth. They teach, for instance, that matter alone exists in the world; that men and beasts have the same origin and a like nature; and some even there are who go so far as to doubt the existence of God, the Ruler and Maker of the world, or to err most grievously, hke unto the heathen, as to His divine nature. Hence the very essence and form of virtue, of justice, and of duty are of necessity distorted. Thus it is that, while they hold up to admiration the high authority of reason, and unduly extol the subtlety of the human intellect, they fall into the just punishment of pride through ignorance of what is of the greatest importance. When the mind has thus been poisoned, the moral char- acter becomes at the same time deeply and substantially corrupt; and so diseased a state can be cured only with the utmost difficulty in this class of men, because on the one side their opinions vitiate the judgment of what is right, and on the other they have not the light of Christian faith, which is the principle and foundation of all righteous- ness.

Daily we see, with our own eyes, as it were, the numer- ous evils that afflict all classes of men from these causes.


168 THE RIGHT ORDERING OF Cf^RISTIAN LIFE.

Poisonous doctrines have corrupted both public and pri- vate life; rationalism, materialism, and atheism have begotten socialism, communism, and njhilism — fatal and pestilential evils, which naturally, and almost necessarily, flow forth from such principles. In good sooth, if the Catholic religion may be rejected with imjjunity, whose divine origin is made clear by such unmistakable signs, why should not all other forms of religion be rejected, when it is clear that they have not the same evidence of truth? If the soul is by nature one with the body, and if therefore no hope of a happy eternity remains when the body dies, what reason is there why man shou)d endure toil and suffering here in the endeavor to subject the appe- tites to right reason? The highest good of man will con- sist in enjoying the comforts and pleasures of life, and since there is absolutely no one who does not by an in- stinct and impulse of nature strive after happiness, every man will naturally lay hands on all he can in the hope of living happily on the spoils of others. Nor will there be any power mighty enough to bridle passions when fullj set astir; for if the supreme and eternal law, which commands what is right and forbids what is wrong, be rejected, it follows that the power of law is thwarted, and that all authority is loosened. Hence the bonds of civil society will be utterly shattered, when every man is driven by insatiable greed to a perpetual struggle, some striving to keep what they possess, others to obtain what they covet. Such is more or less the spirit and tone of our age.

There is, nevertheless, some consolation for us, even while looking at existing evils, and we may lift up our heart in good hope. For God created all things that they might be: and He made the nations of the earth for health} But as all this world cannot be upheld save by the will and providence of Him who called it out of nothing, so also can men be healed only by the power of Him by whose good-

» Wisd. i. 14.


THE RIGHT ORDERING OF CHRISTIAN LIFE. 169

ness they were recalled from death to life. For Jesus Christ redeemed the human race once by the abundant shedding of His blood; and the efficacy of this great work and gift is for all ages: Neither is there salvation in any other} Hence they who strive by the enforcement of law to extinguish the ever-growing flame of popular passions, strive indeed for what is right and just; but they will labor with little or no result so long as they obstinately reject the power of the Gospel and refuse the assistance of the Church. These evils can be cured only by a change of principles, and by returning in public and private conduct to Jesus Christ and to a Christian rule of fife.

Now the whole essence of a Christian fife is not to take part in the corruption of the world, but to oppose constantly any indulgence in that corruption. This is taught b}' all the words and actions, by all the laws and institutions, by the very life and death of Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of jaith? Hence, however strongly we are drawn back by our evil nature and the profligacy that is around us, it is our duty to run to the jight proposed to us,^ armed and prepared with the same courage and the same weapons as He who, having joy set before Him, endured the cross.* Wherefore men are bound to consider and understand this above all, that it is contrary to the profession and duty of a Christian to follow, as they are wont to do, every kind of pleasure, to shrink from the hardship attending a virtuous life, and to allow oneself all that gratifies and delights the senses. They that are Christ's have crucified their flesh with the vices and concupiscences.^ Hence it follows that they who are not accustomed to suffer, and to disregard ease and pleasure, belong not to Christ. By the infinite goodness of God, man was restored to the hope of an immortal life from which he had been cut off; but he cannot attain to it if he strives not to walk in the very

» Acts iv 12. * Heb. xii. 2.

2 Heb. xii. 2. ^ g^L v. 24.

  • Heb. xii. 1.


170 THE RIGHT ORDERING OF CHRISTIAN LIFE.

footsteps of Christ, and to conform his mind and Hfe to that of Christ by meditating on His example. Therefore this is not a counsel, but a duty; and the duty, not only of those who desire a more perfect life, but of all — always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus} How else shall the natural law, which commands man to live virtuously, be kept? For by holy baptism the sin which we contracted at birth is taken away; but the evil and perverse roots which sin has planted in our hearts are by no means removed. That part of man which is without reason, although harmless to those who fight manfully by the grace of Christ, nevertheless struggles with reason for supremacy, disturbs the whole soul, and tyrannically bends the will away from virtue with such power that we cannot escape vice or do our duty except by a daity struggle. The Council of Trent says: "This holy synod teaches that in the baptized there remains concupiscence or an inclination to evil, which, being left to be fought against, cannot hurt those who, instead of yielding to it, manfully fight against it by the grace of Jesus Christ; for he who hath lawfully striven shall be croumed." ^ There is in this struggle a degree of valor to which only a very perfect virtue attains, such as belongs to those who, by putting to flight impulses opposed to right reason, have made such advances in virtue as to seem almost to live a heavenly life on earth. Granted that few attain excellence so great, yet even the philosophy of the ancients taught that every man should conquer his evil desires; and still more and with greater care should those do so who, from daily contact with the world, are more sorely tempted — unless it be foolishly thought that where the danger is greater watchfulness is less needed, or that they whose maladies are most grievous need medicine more seldom.

But the toil which has to be borne in this conflict is com- pensated by great blessings over and above its eternal reward in heaven; and particularly because by the quell-

' 2 Cor. iv. 10. ^ Sess. v. can. 5.


THE RIGHT ORDERING OF CHRISTIAN LIFE. 171

ing of the passions, nature is in a measure restored to its original dignity. For man has been born under a law that the soul should rule the body, and that the appetites should be restrained by mind and reason; and hence it follows that to restrain evil passions striving for the mastery over us is our noblest and greatest freedom. Moreover, it is difficult to see what can be expected of a man, even as a member of society, who is not thus dis- posed. Will any one be inchned to do right who has been accustomed to make self-love the sole rule of what he should do or avoid doing? No man can be high-souled, or kind, or merciful, or restrained who has not learned to conquer self, and to despise all worldly things when opposed to virtue.

Nor must We refrain from affirming that it seems to have been determined in the designs of God that there should be no salvation for men without struggle and pain. Indeed, when God gave to man pardon for sin, He gave it under the condition that His only-begotten Son should pay its just and due penalty; and though Jesus Christ might have satisfied divine justice in other ways, never- theless He preferred to satisfy it by the utmost suffering and the sacrifice of His fife. Therefore He has imposed it upon His followers as a law signed with His blood that their life should be an endless strife with the vices of their age, T\Tiat made the apostles unconquerable in their mission of teaching truth to the world? "WTiat strength- ened our countless martyrs in bearing witness by their blood to the Christian faith? Their more than readiness to obey fearlessly this law. All who have taken heed to live a Christian life and to seek after virtue have trodden the same path. We, too, must walk along this road if we desire to assure either our own salvation or that of others. Therefore, in the unbounded license that prevails, it is necessar}^ for every one to guard manfully against the allurements of luxury; and since on erery side there is so much pretentious display of enjoyment in wealth,


172 THE RIGHT ORDERING OF CHRISTIAN LIFE.

the soul must be strengthened against the dangerous snare of wealth, lest, in striving after what are called the good things of life, which cannot satisfy and soon fade away, the soul should lose the treasure in heaven which faileth not. Finally, it is a further matter of deep grief that free thought and evil example have had such an influence in enfeebling the minds of men as to make many ashamed of the name of Christian — a shame which is the sign either of hopeless wickedness or of extreme cowardice. Each of these is detestable, and each injuri- ous in the extreme. For what salvation remaii:is for men, or on what hope can they rely, if they cease to glory in the name of Jesus Christ, if they openly and constantly refuse to live by the precepts of the Gospel? It is a com- mon complaint that the age is barren of courageous men. Bring back into vogue a Christian rule of life and the minds of men will forthwith regain their strength and constancy.

But man's power of itself is not equal to the responsi- bility of so many and such various duties. As we must ask of God our daily bread for the sustenance of the body, so must we pray to Him for strength of soul that we may be sustained in virtue. Hence that universal condition and law of our life, which We have said is a perpetual warfare, brings with it the necessity of prayer to God. For, as is well and gracefully said by St. Augustine, devout prayer passes beyond the world's space and calls down the mercy of God from heaven. In order to con- quer the assaults of our passions and the snares of the devil, lest we be led into evil, we are commanded to seek the divine help in the words. Pray that ye enter not into temptation} How much more is this necessary if we wish to labor profitably for the salvation of others also! Christ our Lord, the only-begotten Son of God, the source of all grace and virtue, first showed by example what He taught in word : He passed the whole nigJit in the prayer of

•Matt, xx^^. 41.


THE RIGHT ORDERING OF CHRISTIAN LIFE. 173

God; * and when nigh to the sacrifice of His life, He prayed the longer? The frailty of nature would be much less peril- ous, and the moral character less weak and languid, if that divine precept of prayer were not so much disre- garded and treated almost with disUke. God is easily appeased. He desires to do good to men, having clearly promised to give His grace in abundance to those who ask for it. Nay, He even invites men to ask, and almost insists upon their asking, with most loving words: / say unto you, ask, and it shall be given to you : seek and you shall find : knock and it shall be opened unto you.^ And that we may have no fear in doing this with all confidence and familiarity, He makes use of tender phrases, comparing Himself to a most loving father who desires nothing so much as the love of his children: // you then, being evU, know how to give good gifts to your children : how much more will your Father, who is in heaven, give good things to them that ask Him ? *

Whoever considers these things will not wonder at the efficacy of human prayer seeming so great to St. John Chrysostom that he thought it might be compared with the divine power. For, as God created all things by His word, so man by prayer obtains whatever he wills. Nothing has so great a power to obtain grace for us as prayer when rightly made; for it contains the motives by which God easily allows Himself to be appeased and to incline to mercy. In prayer we separate ourselves from things of earth; filled with the thought of God alone, we become conscious of our human weakness; and there- fore, resting in the goodness and embrace of our Heavenly Father, we seek refuge in the power of Him who created us. We approach the Author of all good as if pressing Him to look upon our weak souls, unsteadfast strength, and great poverty; and, full of hope, we implore His aid and guardianship, who alone can heal our infirmities ^

  • Luke vi. 12. ^ L^j^^g ^i. 9.

^'Luke xxii. 43. * Matt. \-ii. 11.


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and give help to us in our weakness and misery. By such a condition of mind, in which, as is fitting, we think humbly of ourselves, God is greatly moved to mercy, for God resisteth the proud, but to the humble He giveth grace}

Let, then, the habit of prayer be sacred to all; let the mind and heart and voice pray together; and let our life be in conformity with our prayer, so that by keeping the divine laws, the course of our days may seem a continual ascent towards God.

The virtue of prayer of which we are speaking is, like other virtues, produced and nourished by divine faith. For God is the author of all true and alone desirable blessings; and to Him also we owe our knowledge of His infinite goodness, and of the merits of Jesus our Re- deemer. But, on the other hand, nothing is more fitted for the nourishment and increase of faith than the pious habit of prayer. And the need of the virtue of faith is seen plainly at this our time through its weakness in most men, and its absence in so many. For faith is es- pecially the source whereby not only each one's hfe may be amended, but also right judgment may be obtained as to those matters which by their conflict hinder States from living in peace and security. If the multitude thirsts and raves for excessive liberty; if the indignation of the lower orders is with difficulty constrained; if the greed of the wealthier classes is insatiable, and if to these be added other evils of the same kind which We have elsewhere fully set forth, it will be found that nothing can remedy them more fully or more surely than Christian faith.

And here it is fitting that We should turn Our thoughts and words to you whom God has made His helpers, by giving you His divine power to dispense His mysteries. If the sources of public and private moral welfare are examined, it will, without doubt, be found that the lives of the clergy may be of immense influence. Let them

» 1 Peter v. 5,


THE RIGHT ORDERING OF CHRISTIAN LIFE. 175

therefore remember that they have been called by Jesus Christ the light of the world; and that "the soul of the priest should shine Uke a light illuminating the whole world." ^ The light of learning, and this in no small degree, is needed in the priest, because it is his duty to fill others with wisdom, to overcome error, and to be a guide to the many in the steep and slippery paths of life. Learning, however, must above all be accompanied by innocence of life, because in the reformation of man ex- ample avails far more than precept. Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works? The meaning of this divine precept is, that the perfection of virtue in priests should be such that they should be hke a mirror to the rest of men. Nothing leads others more surely to the love and worship of God than the life and example of those dedicated to the divine ministry; for, since they are separated from the world and placed in a higher sphere, others look on them as on a mirror, to seek from them an example which they may follow." ' Therefore, if all men must watchfully take heed against the allurements of sin, and against a too eager seeking after fleeting pleasures, it is clear that priests ought to do the same much more faithfully and steadfastly. But it is not enough for them merely to restrain their passions: their sacred dignity requires of them in addition the habit of stringent self-denial, and that they should devote all the powers of their soul, particularly the intellect and will, which hold the highest powers in man, to the service of Christ. "If thou hast a mind to leave all," says St. Bernard, "remember to reckon thyself among the things that thou wishest to abandon — nay, deny thyself first and before everything." * Not until their soul is un- shackled and free from every unhallowed desire will

1 St. John Chrysost. De Sac. L 3, c. 1.

2 Matt. V. 16.

^ Con. Trid. Sess. xxii. 1, de Ref.

  • Declam., c. 1.


176 THE RIGHT ORDERING OF CHRISTIAN LIFE.

priests have a ready and generous zeal for the salvation of others, and without this they cannot properly secure their own. "One thing only shall they seek and rejoice at in those subject to them, in one thing only shall they glory — to make of them, if possible, a perfect people. For this they will strive in every way, with great labor of mind and body, in toil and suffering, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness." ^ Frequent meditation upon the things of heaven wonderfully nourishes and strengthens virtue of this kind, and makes it always ready and fearless of the greatest difficulties for the good of others. The more pains they take in such meditation, the more clearly will priests understand the greatness, the excellence, the holiness of their office. They will see how sad it is that so many men, redeemed by Jesus Christ, should run headlong to eternal ruin; and by meditation upon the divine nature they will themselves be more strongly moved, and will more effectually excite others to the love of God.

Such, then, is the surest way to secure the general wel- fare. But let us not be frightened by the greatness of our difficulties, or despair of cure by reason of the long continuance of evil. The impartial and unchangeable justice of God reserves due reward for good deeds and fitting punishment for sin. But since the life of peoples and nations does not outlast this world, these necessarily receive their retribution upon this earth. Indeed, it is not a new thing for prosperity to have place in a sinful nation; and this by the just designs of God, who from time to time rewards good deeds with prosperity, for no people is altogether without worth. This St. Augustine considered to have been the case with the Roman people. The law, nevertheless, remains clear: that nations may prosper, it is to the interest of all that virtue— and espe- cially justice, the mother of all virtues — should be pub- licly practised. Justice exalteth a nation; but sin inaketh

' St. Bern., De Consid., iv. 2.


THE RIGHT ORDERING OF CHRISTIAN LIFE. 177

nations miserable} It is not our purpose here to consider how far evil deeds may succeed, or whether some king- doms, while flourishing according to their desires, may nevertheless bear within them the seeds of ruin and misery. This one thing, of which history has innumerable ex- amples, We wish to be understood, that injustice is always punished, and with greater severity the longer it has been continued. We, however, are greatly consoled by the words of the Apostle St. Paul : For all things are yours; and- you are Christ's, and Christ is God^s.^ That is, by the hidden dispensation of divine Providence the course of earthly things is so guided and governed that all things that happen to man turn to the glory of God, and lead to the salvation of the true disciples of Jesus Christ. Of these the mother and sustainer, the leader and guardian, is the Church; which, united to Christ her spouse in inti- mate and unchangeable charity, is also joined to Him in common contest and in common conquest. Hence We are not, and cannot be, anxious for the sake of the Church; but We greatly fear for the salvation of very many who in their pride despise the Church, and by many kinds of error are borne along to their own de- struction. We are anxious for those States which We cannot but see have turned from God, and are sleeping in the midst of danger with dull security and insensi- bihty. "Nothing is equal in power to the Church. . . . How many have opposed the Church and have themselves perished! The Church reaches to the heavens. Such is the Church's greatness: she conquers when attacked; when beset by snares she triumphs; . . . she struggles, and is not overthrown; she fights, and is not overcome." '

Not only is she not conquered, but she preserves entire that reforming power and efficient principle of salvation which she derives unceasingly from God, and which

^ Prov. xiv. 34. ^ 1 Cor. iii. 22, 23.

  • St. John Chrysost.


178 THE RIGHT ORDERING OF CHRISTIAN LIFE.

remains unchanged by time. And, if by this power she freed the world grown old in vice and lost in superstition, why should she not by the same bring it back again to the right way? Let suspicion and emnity cease at length; let all obstacles be removed, and let the Church, whose duty it is to guard and spread abroad the benefits obtained by Jesus Christ, be restored everywhere to her rights. Then shall we know by experience how far the light of the Gospel can reach, and what the power of Christ our Re- deemer can effect. This year, now coming to a close, has given, as We have said, many signs of a reviving faith. Would that this Uttle spark may increase till it becomes a mighty flame, which, burning up the roots of vice, may quickly prepare the way for the restoration of morals and for salutary works. We, indeed, who command the mystical barque of the Church in so formidable a storm, fix Our mind and heart upon the divine Pilot who sits unseen at the helm. Thou seest, O Lord, how the winds have burst forth from every side ; how the sea rages, and the waves are lashed to fury. Command, we beseech Thee, who alone canst do so, the winds and the sea. Give back to mankind that tranquillity of order, that true peace which the world cannot give. By Thy grace and impulse let men be restored to proper order, with piety towards God, with justice and love towards their neighbor, with temperance in regard to themselves, and with reason controlhng all their passions. Let Thy kingdom come; let the duty of submitting to Thee and serving Thee be learnt by those who, far from Thee, seek truth and salvation with a purpose that is all vain. In Thy laws justice and a father's gentleness are found ; and Thou grantest to us of Thy own good-will the power to keep Thy commands. The hfe of man on earth is a warfare, but Thou lookest down upon the struggle and helpest man to conquer ; Thou raisest him that falls, and crownest him that triumphs." ^

» 'Cf. St. Aug. on Ps. 32.


THE RIGHT ORDERING OF CHRISTIAN LIFE. 179

Our mind is upheld by these thoughts to a joyful and firm hope; and as a pledge of heavenly favors, and of our good-will, we most lovingly in the Lord grant to you, Venerable Brothers, and to the clergy and people of the whole Cathohc world, the Apostolic Blessing.