The Great Encyclical Letters of Pope Leo XIII/The Religious Congregations in France

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I. Letter from the Pope to the Archbishop of Paris, December

23, 1900.

Amid the consolations afforded Us during the Holy Year by the pious eagerness of the pilgrims who have flocked to Rome from all parts of the world, We have been struck wdth sadness at the news of the dangers which threaten the religious congregations in France. By dint of misunderstanding and prejudice it has come to be thought that it will be necessary' for the good of the State to put restraints upon their liberty, and perhaps to proceed against them with even greater rigor. The duty of Our supreme ministry, and the deep affection which We bear for France, lead Us to address you on this grave and important subject in the hope that, cm being better enlightened, upright and fair-minded men will hark back to more equitable counsels. And in addressing you We address also Our Venerable Brethren — your colleagues in the French episcopate.

In the name of the heavy cares which you share with Us it is for you to dissipate the prejudice which exists among your countrymen, and to prevent, as far as possible, any irreparable misfortunes befalling the Church and France.


The religious orders, as every one knows, have their origin and the reason of their existence in those sublime evangelical counsels which Our divine Redeemer gave to those who, in every succeeding age, would attain to



Christian perfection — to those brave and generous souls who by prayer and contemplation, by pious austerities and the observance of certain rules, endeavor to climb to the highest summits of the spiritual hfe. Born and cradled under the action of the Church, whose authority gives sanction to their government and administration, the religious orders form a chosen portion of the flock of Jesus Christ. They are, according to the expression of St. Chrysostom, **the honor and ornament of spiritual grace," whilst, at the same time, they are witnesses to the sacred fecundity of the Church.

Their vows, made freely and spontaneously, after ripening in the meditations of the novitiate, have ever been regarded and respected by people in every age as sacred things and the sources of the rarest virtue. Their object is twofold: first, the raising of those who take them to a higher degree of perfection; and secondly, by purifying and strengthening their souls, to prepare them for a ministry which is exercised for the everlasting salvation of their neighbor and for the alleviation of the numberless miseries of humanity. Thus, working under the supreme direction of the Apostolic See for the realiza- tion of the ideal of perfection traced by Our Lord, and living under rules which have nothing in contradiction of any form of civil government, the religious congrega- tions co-operate on a large scale in the mission of the Church, which consists essentially in the sanctification of souls and in doing good to men.

This is why wherever the Church is in possession of her liberty, wherever the natural right of a citizen to choose the sort of life he considers best suited to his taste and his moral advancement is respected, there, too, the re- ligious orders have arisen as a spontaneous product of Catholic soil, and the bishops have rightly regarded them as valuable auxiliaries in the sacred ministry and in works of Christian charity.



But it is not to the Church alone that the religious orders have from their first appearance rendered immense ser- vices: they have benefited also civil society itself. They have had the merit of preaching virtue to the multitude by the apostolate of good example, as well as by that of word of mouth, of forming and adorning men's minds by the teaching of sacred and profane knowledge, and of enlarging the heritage of the fine arts by splendid works that will Uve.

Whilst their doctors shed renown on the universities by the depth and breadth of their learning, and their houses became the refuge of divine and human knowl- edge, and in the shipwreck of civilization saved from certain destruction the masterpieces of ancient wisdom, other rehgious have penetrated inhospitable regions, swamps or tangled forests, and there, braving every danger in draining and clearing and cultivating the land by the sweat of their brow, they founded round their monasteries and beneath the shadow of the cross centres of population which grew into villages and flourishing towns, whence, under a kindly rule, agriculture and industry began to spread abroad.

When the small number of priests or the needs of the day demanded it, legions of apostles, eminent for their piety and learning, were seen issuing forth from the cloisters, who, by their valiant co-operation with the bishops, exerted the happiest influence on society, by putting an end to feuds, stifling enmity, bringing people back to the thought of duty, and by setting up again in honor the principles of religion and Christian civilization.

Such, briefly indicated, are the merits of the religious orders in the past. They have been registered by the hand of impartial history, and it is superfluous to dwell on them at any greater length. Nor is their activity,


their zeal, or their love of their fellow men diminished in our own day. The good that they do strikes every eye, and their virtues shine with a brilliance which no accusa- tion, no attack, can tarnish.

In this noble arena in which the religious congregations vie with each other in beneficent activity, those of France, We say it again with joy, occupy a foremost and honorable place. Some devoted to teaching instruct the young in secular knowledge and the principles of religious virtue and duty, upon which public peace and the welfare of States absolutely depend. Others, consecrated to various works of charity, afford effective aid to eveiy physical and moral misery in the numberless houses wherein they tend the sick, the infirm and the aged, the orphan, the deranged, and the incurable, without allowing the danger or unpleasantness of their work or the ingratitude they may meet with to dampen their courage or check their ardor. These meritorious services, recognized again and again by men above any suspicion of favoritism, and time after time, rewarded by public honors, make these congregations the glory of the Church at large, and the particular and shining glory of France, which they have ever nobly served, and which they love, as We have many times seen, with a patriotism that feared not to face death itself with joy.

The disappearance of these champions of Christian charity would, it is evident, bring on the country an ir- reparable loss. By the drying up of such an abundant source of voluntary aid, public misery would be notably increased and, at the same time, an eloquent preaching of brotherhood and concord would be silenced. A society in which so many elements of trouble and enmity are fermenting needs assuredly great examples of self-sacri- fice, love, and disinterestedness. And what is better fitted to raise and pacify men's minds than the sight of these men and woman, who, giving up a happy, distin- guished and, oftentimes, an illustrious position, volun-


tarily make themselves the brothers and sisters of the children of the people, practising in their regard true equality by utterly devoting themselves to the disin- herited, the abandoned, and the suffering?

So admirable is the activity of the French congrega- tions that it could not be kept within the frontiers of the country, but has gone forth to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth, and with the Gospel the name, the language, and the prestige of France. Exiles of their own free will, the French missionaries go out across stormy sea and sandy desert seeking to gain souls for Christ in the most distant and often unexplored regions. They are seen settling amongst savage trilDes in order to civilize them by teaching the elements of Christianity, the love of God and their neighbors, work, regard for the weak, and cleanly li\'ing; and they devote themselves to this without looking for any earthly reward even till death, which is often hastened by fatigue, the difficulties of the Church, or the sword of the executioner. Respecting the laws and submissive to the civil authorities, they bring with them, wherever they come, civilization and peace; their only ambition is to enlighten the less fortu- nate people to whom they devote themselves, and to lead them to Christian morality, and to a knowledge of their dignity as men. Nor is it an uncommon thing for them to make important contribution to science by the help they give to the researches which are being made in such different domains as the study of the differences of race and tongue, of history, the nature and products of the soil, and other questions.

It is, moreover, precisely upon the laborious, patient, and tireless action of these admirable missionaries that the Protectorate of France is founded, which governjiient after government has always been jealous to preserve, and which We Ourselves have publicly acknowledged. The inviolable attachment of the French missionaries to their country, the eminent services which they render


her, the great influence which they secure for her especially in the East, all these are facts recognized by men of the most varied opinions, and only lately solemnly proclaimed by the voice of the highest authority.

Under these circumstances, to deprive the religious congregations at home of the freedom and peace which alone can ensure the recruiting of their members and the long and laborious task of their training would not onty be to requite so many great services with inexplicable ingratitude, but would also, at the same time, be a clear renunciation of the benefits that flow from them. Other nations have already had sorry experience of such a policy. After having checked the expansion of the religious congre- gations at home, and so gradually dried up their seed they have seen their own influence and prestige abroad proportionally decline; for it is useless to seek fruit of a tree from which you lop the branches.

It is easy to see that all the great interests at stake in this question would be seriously compromised, even if the missionary orders were spared that the others might be struck, for careful consideration shows that the existence and action of the one are bound up with the existence and action of the others. As a matter of fact the vocation of the missionary religious germinates and develops under the word of the preacher religious, under the pious direction of the teaching religious and even under the supernatural influence of the contemplative religious. One can im- agine, too, the difficult situation in which the mission- aries would be placed, and the decline of their authority and prestige which would follow on the people whom they are seeking to evangelize, learning that the religious congregations, far from meeting with protection and respect in their own country, were there treated with hostility and harshness.

But, looking at the question from a higher standpoint, we may point out that the religious congregations, as We have already said, represent the pubhc practice of Chris-


tian perfection; and, if it be certain that there are in the Church, and always will be, elect souls aspiring to it under the influence of grace, it would be unjust to hinder their designs. It would, moreover, be an assault on the liberty of the Church which is in France guaranteed by a solemn treaty, for everything that hinders her from leading souls to perfection injures the free exercise of her divine mission.

To strike at the religious orders would be to deprive the Church of devoted co-operators: at home where they are the necessary auxiliaries of the bishops and clergy in the exercise of the sacred ministry and the function of Catholic teach ng and preaching which the Church has the right and the duty of dispensing, and which is de- manded by the conscience of the faithful: and abroad where the general intere'^ts of the apostolate and its chief power in all parts of the world are for the greater part represented by th-? French (ongregations. The blow which struck them would be felt everywhere, and the Holy See, bound by a divine command to provide for the spread of the Gospel, would find itself under the necessity of offering no opposition to the occupation of the vacancies left by French missionaries by the mission- aries of other nations.

Lastly, We should point out that to strike the religious congregations would be to forsake to one's own undoing those democratic principles of liberty and equality which form the rery foundation of constitutional right in France and guarantee the individual and collective liberty of every citizen so long as his actions and manner of living have an honest aim which in no way injures the rights and legitimate interests of any one.

Now, in a State of such advanced civilization as that of France, We refuse to think that there is neither protec- tion nor respect for a class of citizens who are honest, peaceable, and devoted to their country, who, possessing all the rights and fulfilling all the duties of their fellow


countrymen, have, either in the vows they make or the Ufe they lead, no other end in view but to work for the perfection of their own souls and the good of their neigh- bor. They only ask for liberty, and the measures taken against them would appear to be all the more unjust and odious since societies of quite another sort receive at the same time a treatment altogether different.

Of course We are not unaware that as a justification for these rigors there are people who go about declaring that the religious congregations encroach upon the juris- diction of the bishops and interfere with the rights of the secular clergy. This assertion cannot be sustained if one cares to consult the wise laws pubhshed on this point by the Church, and which We have recently re- enacted. In perfect harmony with the decrees and spirit of the Council of Trent they regulate on the one hand the conditions of existence of persons vowed to the prac- tise of the evangelical counsels and to the apostolate, and on the other they respect as far as is necessary the authority of the bishops in their respective dioceses. Whilst they safeguard the dependence due to the head of the Church, they also in a majority of cases give to the bishop supreme authority over the congregations by way of delegation apostolic. As for the attempt to make out that the episcopate and clergy of France are disposed to give a favorable welcome to the ostracism with which it is desired to strike the religious orders, it is an insult which the bishops and priests can only repel with all the energy of their priestly soul.

There is no need to give any more importance to the other reproach that is made against the congregations, of being too rich. Even if we admit that the value set upon their property is not exaggerated there is no con- testing that they are in honorable and legal possession, and consequently to despoil them would be an attack upon the rights of property. It is, moreover, necessary to remark that they possess nothing for their personal


interest or for the good of their individual members, but for works of religion, charity, and beneficence, which turn to the profit of the French nation at home and abroad, whither they go to increase its prestige by contributing to the mission of civihzation which Providence has en- trusted to it.

Passing over in silence other considerations which are made on the subject of the religious congregations, We confine Ourselves to this important remark: France maintains amicable relations with the Holy See founded upon a solemn treaty. If then, the inconveniences in- dicated have upon given points any reahty the way is open to bring them to the notice of the Holy See, which is ready to make them the subject of a serious investiga- tion, and if need be to apply suitable remedies. We desire, however, to reckon upon the equitable impartiality of the men who guide the destinies of France and upon the fairmindedness and good sense which distinguish the French people. We feel confident that they will not wish to lose the precious moral and social heritage of which the religious congregations are the representatives; that they have no desire, in seeking to secure general liberty by laws of exception, to wound the feelings of Catholics, and to aggravate to its own great detriment their country's internal discords. A nation is truly great and strong, and can regard the future with any assurance of security, only if its people are closely united in working for the common good in full regard for the rights of all, and with consciences free and undisturbed. From the beginning of Our Pontificate We have never omitted to make any effort to further this work of pacification in France which would have brought her incalculable benefits, not only in the religious, but also in the civil and pohtical order. Undeterred by any difficulties. We have not ceased to give France particular proofs of Our respect, solicitude, and affection, always feeling sure that she would respond to them as a great and generous nation should.


We should be overwhelmed with the deepest sorrow if, in the evening of Our days, We should discover that We had been deceived in these hopes, deprived of the price of Our fatherly solicitude, and condemned to watch in the country which We love a rancorous struggle between party passions, with no power to know how far their excesses would extend or to ward off the misfortunes which We have done all We could to prevent, and for which We decline, in advance, to be held in any way responsible.

In any case the duty which is at present incumbent on the French bishops is to labor in perfect harmony of thought and action to prevail upon the people to save the rights and interests of the religious congregations, which We love with all Our fatherly heart, and whose existence, hberty, and prosperity concern the Catholic Church, France, and humanity.

May the Lord vouchsafe to hear Our ardent prayers and to grant success to the efforts which We have now for so long made in this noble cause. And as a token of Our benevolence and of divine favors We grant you, dear Son, and to the whole episcopate, clergy, and people of France, the Apostolic Benediction.

II. Letter of His Holiness Leo XIII., June 29, 1901, to the Superiors of the Religious Orders and Institutes in France.

At all times the religious families have received from the Apostolic See particular assurance of loving and considerate solicitude, whether they were in the enjoy- ment of the benefits of peace, or, as in our days, under- going such trials as those which now assail them. The onslaught which, in certain countries, has been recently made against the orders and the institutes subject to your authority, cause Us the profoundest grief, and holy Church is bowed down in sorrow because of it, for it


feels itself cut to the quick in its own inherent rights, and seriously impeded in the fulfilment of its work which, for its proper exercise, requires the concurrence of both clergies, secular and religious. In truth, who touches its priests touches the apple of its eye. For Our part, you know that We have endeavored, by all the means in Our power, to prevent this unworthy persecution, and have striven to avert from those countries the consequent disasters which will be as great as they are undeserved. Hence it is that on many occasions, in the name of religion, of justice, and of civilization, We have pleaded your cause with all the power at Our command; but We have hoped in vain that Our remonstrances would be listened to; for, lo! a nation which was singularly fruitful in religious vocations, a nation on which We have always bestowed the greatest consideration, has, by the authority of its government, approved and promulgated these unjust and discriminating laws, against which, a few months ago, We had lifted Our voice in the hope of preventing their being put upon the statutes.

Remembering Our sacred duties, and following the example of Our illustrious predecessors. We have put the seal of condemnation on these laws as being con- trary to that natural and evangehcal right which is con- ferred by constant tradition; the right, namely, to form associations for the purpose of leading lives w^hich are not only honest in themselves but marked by exalted sanctity: We have condemned them because they are contrary to that unquestionable right which the Church possesses of founding religious institutions exclusively subject to its authority to aid it in the accomplishment of its divine mission; especially when, in this instance, the exercise of that right has resulted in the greatest benefits in the religious and civil order and redounded to the advantage of that noble nation itself.

And now We feel moved to open to you Our paternal heart in the desire to give you, and to receive from you


some holy consolation and, at the same time, to address to you the advice which the occasion calls for, in order that remaining still more firm in the time of trial you will gain greater merit in the sight of God and men.

Among the many motives of courage which spring from our faith, recall, dear Sons, that solemn word of Jesus Christ: Blessed are ye when they shall revile and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you untruly for My sake} Reproaches, calumnies, vexations of all kinds will be poured out upon you for My sake, but then shall you be blessed. It is in vain to multiply against you those calumnious accusations which seek to dishonor you. The sad reality is flashed only the more vividly on men's eyes, that the true reason for which you are persecuted is that deep-seated hatred which the world cherishes against the Catholic Church, the City of God; that the real intention is, if possible, to nullify in society the re- parative action of Jesus Christ from which such beneficent and salutary results universally flow. No one is ignorant of the fact that the religious of both sexes form a chosen body in the City of God; that they represent particularly the spirit and the mortifications of Jesus Christ; that by the practice of the Evangelical Counsels they tend to carry Christian virtue to the summit of perfection and that, in a multitude of ways, they powerfully second the action of the Church. Hence it is not astonishing that to-day, as in other times, under other iniquitous forms, the City of the World rises against them, and chiefly those men who, by a sacrilegious compact, are most intimately united and most servilely bound to him who is Prince of this world.

It is clear that they consider the dissolution and ex- tinction of religious orders as a successful manoeuvre in the furthering of their deep-laid designs of driving the Catholic nations into the ways of apostasy and ahena- tion from Jesus Christ, and because of that, We may say

'Matt. V 11.


in all truth: Blessed are you because you are hated and persecuted. It is only because you have chosen your kind of life out of love for Jesus Christ.

If you followed the maxims and the ways of the world, the world would not trouble you, but would shower its favors upon you. "If you had been of the world, the world would love its own"; but because you are walking in oppo- site ways you are assailed and warred against. It is because the world hates you. Christ Himself foretold it. Hence He regards you with all the more love and predilection as He sees you more Uke Himself in your suffering for justice' sake. But if you partake of the suffering of Christ, rejoice. Aspire to the courage of those heroes who went from the presence of the Council rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer refroach for the name of Jesus} To this glory which comes from the testimony of your conscience, there is added, though you do not seek it, the blessing of all honest men. All those who have at heart the peace and prosperity of their country are aware that there are no more honorable citizens, no more useful men, no more devoted patriots than the members of religious congregations, and they tremble at the thought of losing in you so many precious advantages which depend upon your existence. There are the throngs of the poor, the abandoned and the un- fortunate for whose sake you have founded and sustained every variety of establishment with supreme intelligence and admirable charity. There are the fathers of families who have entrusted their sons to you, and who, until the present moment, relied upon you to impart that moral and religious education which is strong, vigorous, and fruit- ful in solid virtue, and which was never more needed than in our time. There are the priests who find in you valu- able auxiliaries in their important and laborious ministry. There are the men of all ranks who, in these times of apostasy, find useful direction and encouragement in

  • Acts V. 41.


your advice, backed as it is by the integrity of your lives. There are, above all, the bishops who honor you with their confidence, and who consider you as tried teachers of their younger clergy, and who recognize in you the true friends of their brothers and their people, offering as you do for them to the divine mercy your incessant prayers and expiatory sacrifices.

But no one appreciates the exceptional merits of re- ligious orders with greater justice than We Ourselves who, from this Apostolic See, are watching over the needs of the universal Church.

Already, in other acts, We have made particular men-, tion of all this. Let it suffice now, to call attention to that splendid ardor with which these religious bodies follow, not only the directions, but the least expression of wish of the Vicar of Jesus Christ; undertaking every work which may contribute to the advantage of the Church and society whenever He indicates it; hurrying to the most inhospitable shores; braving every suffering and accepting death itself, as many have done in the most glorious manner in the recent upheavals of the empire of China.

If, among the dearest remembrances of Our long Pontifi- cate, We count the fact that by Our authority We have raised a great number of the servants of God to the honors of the altar, those remembrances are all the more dear to Us because the majority of those saints belong to religious orders, either as founders or as simple religious.

We, moreover, wish to recall for your consolation, that among people of the world, distinguished by their position, and by their knowledge of what society needs there have not been lacking many honorable and up- right men who have come forward to praise your works, to defend your inviolable right as citizens, and your still more inviolable liberty as Catholics. Surely, one must be blinded by passion not to see that it is unwise and dishonorable to crush those who, hoping for nothing


and asking for nothing, give themselves up entirely to the service of their fellow men. Let it be considered with what zeal these religious apply themselves to de- velop among the children of the people those germs of natural goodness which, without them, would perish and leave these little ones to grow up a danger to themselves and to others. These religious have, with the help of grace, cultivated patiently and assiduously these precious seeds, have preserved them from destruction and have succeeded in bringing them to maturity. Under their influence they developed a splendid fruitage of intelligent love for truth, of honesty, a sense of duty, of strength, of character, and of generosity in sacrifice. And what is there better calculated than all this for the order and prosperity of the State? Nevertheless, dear Sons, since the hatred of the world pursues you so far as to pretend that it is a useful and praiseworthy work to trample under foot in your persons the most sacred rights and that in so doing, a service is done to God, adore with a trusting humility the designs of the Almighty in permitting this. If, at times. He suffers right to succumb to violence He does so only for the purpose of some greater good; but reimem- ber that He often comes to Our rescue in unforseen ways when We suffer for Him and trust in Him.

If He places obstacles and obstructions in the path of those whose state is that of Christian perfection, it is in order to test and fortify their virtue, and it is, more par- ticularly, to strengthen and reinvigorate their souls which might else have grown feeble in protracted peace.

Endeavor, therefore, to correspond to those paternal designs of Almighty God. Give yourselves up with redoubled ardor to a life of prayer and faith and holy works; make regular discipline reign among you; let a brotherly union of hearts prevail among you, with humble and eager obedience, austerity and detachment and a pious ardor for the glory of God. Let your thoughts be always high, jour resolutions generous and your zeal


indefatigable for the glory of God and the extension of His kingdom. Since by the misfortune of the times, you find yourselves either already struck or threatened by the fatal laws of dispersion you must recognize that these very circiunstances impose upon you the duty of defending with more zeal than ever the integrity of your religious spirit against the contamination of the world and of holding yourselves ever ready and ever armed against all attacks.

On this point you will recall the different instructions which have been addressed to Regulars by the Apostolic See, and these other prescriptions which have emanated from your own superiors. Let both one and the other keep their full vigor and be most conscientiously observed. And now, religious of every age, young and old, lift your eyes to your illustrious founders. Their maxims speak to you, their statutes guide you; their examples are before your eyes. Let your sweetest and holiest desires be to hear them, to follow them, to imitate them. It is thus that multitudes of your ancestors have acted in times of trial; it is thus they have transmitted to you a rich heritage of sublime courage and virtue. Long to make yourselves worthy of your sires and of your brethren in order that you may be able, all of you, to say, while justly glorifying yourselves, We are the sons and brothers of the saints. It is thus that you will obtain the greatest ad- vantage for yourselves, for the Church, and for society. By spurring yourselves onward to reach that degree of sanctity to which God has called you, you will fulfil the designs of Providence in your regard and you will merit the abundant recompense which He has promised you. The Church — your tender mother — who has heaped favors upon you, will obtain, in return for it all, a more faithful and more efficacious cooperation than ever in its mission of peace and salvation. Peace and salvation; they are the two urgent needs of society at the present time, which so many causes tend to corrupt and degrade.


To arouse it and to bring it repentant to the feet of the merciful Saviour we must have men of superior virtue, of living eloquence, of apostolic hearts and men who possess, at the same time, the power of drawling abun- dant graces from heaven. You will be such men, We doubt not, and you will thus become the most opportune and the most glorious benefactors of society.

Dear sons, the charity of the Lord inspires a last word to strengthen in you the sentiments with which you are animated towards those who attack your institutes and who wish to destroy your Uberty. Just as your con- science prompts you to keep a firm and dignified attitude, so by your profession, you must always show yourselves sweet and indulgent ; because it is especially in the religious that the perfection of that true charity should be resplen- dent, reveahng itself, as always open to pity, and ever incapable of harboring hate. Without doubt, to see yourselves rewarded with ingratitude and thrust aside by those you have benefited would naturally cause bitter- ness of heart; but, dear Sons, let your faith, and what it tells you give you comfort. Bear in mind the sublime exhortation. Overcome evil by good. That faith places before your eyes the incomparable magnanimity of the Apostle. We are reviled and we bless; we are persecuted and we suffer it; we are blasphemed and we entreat} Above all, it invites you to repeat the supplication of the supreme benefactor of the human race, Jesus Christ, suspended on His cross : Father, forgive them. Therefore, dear Sons, strengthen yourselves in the Lord. You have with you the Vicar of Jesus Christ; you have with you the whole Catholic world, which regards you with affection, respect, and gratitude. Your glorious founders and your glorious brothers encourage you. Your Sovereign Chief, Jesus Christ, girds you with His strength and covers you with the mantle of His virtue.

Well-beloved Sons, turn to the divine Heart with a

> 1 Cor. iv. 12, 13.


fervent confidence, and fervent prayers. You will find there all the strength necessary to conquer the fear of the world. There is one word which rings through the centuries, always living and always full of consolation. Have confidence, I have conquered the world.

May you find, besides, some consolation in Our blessing which on this day, consecrated to the triumphant memory of the apostles, We are happy to accord you in all its plenitude; to each one of you, to all of you, and to each one of your families who are most true to Us in the Lord.