The Decrees of the Vatican Council/Part 1/Prologue

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Promulgated in the 3d Session of the Holy Œcumenical Vatican Council

PIUS, Bishop,

Servant of the servants of God, with the approval of the Sacred Council, for Perpetual Remembrance

OUR Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and Redeemer of mankind, before returning to His Heavenly Father, promised that He would be with the Church Militant on earth all days, even to the consummation of the world. Therefore he has never ceased to be present with His beloved Spouse, to assist her when teaching, to bless her when at work, and to aid her when in danger. And this His salutary providence, which has been constantly displayed by other innumerable benefits, has been most manifestly proved by the abundant good results which Christendom has derived from Œcumenical Councils, and particularly from that of Trent, although it was held in evil times. For, as a consequence, the sacred doctrines of the Faith have been defined more closely and set forth more fully; errors have been condemned and restrained; ecclesiastical discipline has been restored and more firmly secured; the love of learning and of piety has been promoted among the clergy; colleges have been established to educate youth for the sacred warfare; and the morals of the Christian world have been renewed by the more accurate training of the faithful and by the more frequent use of the sacraments. Moreover, there has resulted a closer communion of the members with the visible head and an increase of vigour in the whole mystical body of Christ; the multiplication of religious congregations and of other institutions of Christian piety; and such ardour in extending the kingdom of Christ throughout the world, as constantly endures, even to the sacrifice of life itself.

But while we recall with due thankfulness these and other signal benefits which the divine mercy has bestowed on the Church, especially by the last Œcumenical Council, we cannot restrain our bitter sorrow for the grave evils which are due principally to the fact that the authority of that sacred Synod has been contemned, or its wise decrees neglected, by many.

No one is ignorant that the heresies proscribed by the Fathers of Trent, by which the divine teaching (magisterium) of the Church was rejected, and all matters regarding religion were surrendered to the judgement of each individual, gradually became dissolved into many sects, which disagreed and contended with one another, until at length not a few lost all faith in Christ. Even the Holy Scriptures, which had previously been declared the sole source and judge of Christian doctrine, began to be held no longer as divine, but to be ranked among the fictions of mythology.

Then there arose, and too widely overspread the world, that doctrine of rationalism, or naturalism, which opposes itself in every way to the Christian religion as a supernatural institution, and works with the utmost zeal in order that, after Christ, our sole Lord and Saviour, has been excluded from the minds of men, and from the life and moral acts of nations, the reign of what they call pure reason or nature may be established. And after forsaking and rejecting the Christian religion, and denying the true God and His Christ, the minds of many have sunk into the abyss of Pantheism, Materialism and Atheism, until, denying rational nature itself, and every sound rule of right, they labour to destroy the deepest foundations of human society.

Unhappily, it has yet further come to pass that, while this impiety prevailed on every side, many, even of the children of the Catholic Church, have strayed from the path of true piety; and by the gradual diminution of the truths they held, the Catholic sense has become weakened in them. For led away by various and strange doctrines, wrongly confusing nature and grace, human science and divine faith, they are found to deprave the true sense of the doctrines which our holy Mother Church holds and teaches, and to endanger the integrity and the soundness of the faith.

Considering these things, how can the Church fail to be deeply stirred? For, even as God wills all men to be saved, and to arrive at the knowledge of the truth; even as Christ came to save what had perished and to gather together the children of God who had been dispersed, so the Church, constituted by God the mother and teacher of all nations, knows its own office as debtor to all, and is ever ready and watchful to raise the fallen, to support those who are falling, to embrace those who return, to confirm the good and to carry them on to better things. Hence it can never forbear from witnessing to and proclaiming the truth of God, which heals all things, knowing the words addressed to it: "My Spirit that is in thee, and My words that I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, from henceforth and for ever."[1]

We, therefore, following the footsteps of our predecessors, have never ceased, as becomes our supreme apostolic office, from teaching and defending Catholic truth, and condemning doctrines of error. And now, with the Bishops of the whole world assembled round us and judging with us, congregated by our authority and in the Holy Spirit in this Œcumenical Council, We, supported by the Word of God written and handed down, as We have received it from the Catholic Church, preserved with sacredness and set forth according to truth, have determined to profess and declare the salutary teaching of Christ from this Chair of Peter, and in sight of all, proscribing and condemning, by the power given to Us by God, all errors contrary thereto.

  1. Isa. lix, 21.