Encyclical by Pope Leo XIII on the
Unity of the Church
given on June 29, 1896

Part Two

8. We are mindful only of what is witnessed to by Holy Writ and what is otherwise well known. Christ proves His own divinity and the divine origin of His mission by miracles; He teaches the multitudes heavenly doctrine by word of mouth; and He absolutely commands that the assent of faith should be given to His teaching, promising eternal rewards to those who believe and eternal punishment to those who do not. "If I do not the works of my Father, believe Me not" John x., 37). "If I had not done among them the works than no other man had done, they would not have sin" (Ibid. xv., 24). "But if I do (the works) though you will not believe Me, believe the works" (Ibid. x., 38). Whatsoever He commands, He commands by the same authority. He requires the assent of the mind to all truths without exception. It was thus the duty of all who heard Jesus Christ, if they wished for eternal salvation, not merely to accept His doctrine as a whole, but to assent with their entire mind to all and every point of it, since it is unlawful to withhold faith from God even in regard to one single point.

   When about to ascend into heaven He sends His Apostles in virtue of the same power by which He had been sent from the Father; and he charges them to spread abroad and propagate His teaching. "All power is given to Me in Heaven and in earth. Going therefore teach all nations....teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matt. xxviii., 18-1920). So that those obeying the Apostles might be saved, and those disobeying should perish. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believed not shall be condemned" (Mark xvi., 16). But since it is obviously most in harmony with God's providence that no one should have confided to him a great and important mission unless he were furnished with the means of properly carrying it out, for this reason Christ promised that He would send the Spirit of Truth to His Disciples to remain with them for ever. "But if I go I will send Him (the Paraclete) to you....But when He, the Spirit of Truth is come, He will teach you all truth" John xvi., 7 13). "And I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you for ever, the Spirit of Truth" (Ibid. xiv., 16-17). "He shall give testimony of Me, and you shall give testimony" (Ibid. xv., 26-27). Hence He commands that the teaching of the Apostles should be religiously accepted and piously kept as if it were His own - "He who hears you hears Me, he who despises you despises Me" (Luke x., 16). Wherefore the Apostles are ambassadors of Christ as He is the ambassador of the Father. "As the Father sent Me so also I send you" John xx., 21). Hence as the Apostles and Disciples were bound to obey Christ, so also those whom the Apostles taught were, by God's command, bound to obey them. And, therefore, it was no more allowable to repudiate one iota of the Apostles' teaching than it was to reject any point of the doctrine of Christ Himself.

   Truly the voice of the Apostles, when the Holy Ghost had come down upon them, resounded throughout the world. Wherever they went they proclaimed themselves the ambassadors of Christ Himself. "By whom (Jesus Christ) we have received grace and Apostleship for obedience to the faith in all nations for His name" (Rom. i., 5). And God makes known their divine mission by numerous miracles. "But they going forth preached everywhere: the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed" (Mark xvi., 20). But what is this word? That which comprehends all things, that which they had learnt from their Master; because they openly and publicly declare that they cannot help speaking of what they had seen and heard.

   But, as we have already said, the Apostolic mission was not destined to die with the Apostles themselves, or to come to an end in the course of time, since it was intended for the people at large and instituted for the salvation of the human race. For Christ commanded His Apostles to preach the "Gospel to every creature, to carry His name to nations and kings, and to be witnesses to him to the ends of the earth." He further promised to assist them in the fulfilment of their high mission, and that, not for a few years or centuries only, but for all time - "even to the consummation of the world." Upon which St. Jerome says: "He who promises to remain with His Disciples to the end of the world declares that they will be for ever victorious, and that He will never depart from those who believe in Him" (In Matt., lib. iv., cap. 28, v. 20). But how could all this be realized in the Apostles alone, placed as they were under the universal law of dissolution by death? It was consequently provided by God that the Magisterium instituted by Jesus Christ should not end with the life of the Apostles, but that it should be perpetuated. We see it in truth propagated, and, 'as it were, delivered from hand to hand. For the Apostles consecrated bishops, and each one appointed those who were to succeed them immediately "in the ministry of the word."

   Nay more: they likewise required their successors to choose fitting men, to endow them with like authority, and to confide to them the office and mission of teaching. "Thou, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus: and the things which thou hast heard of me by many witnesses, the same command to faithful men, who shall be fit to teach others also" (2 Tim. ii., 1-2). Wherefore, as Christ was sent by God and the Apostles by Christ, so the Bishops and those who succeeded them were sent by the Apostles. "The Apostles were appointed by Christ to preach the Gospel to us. Jesus Christ was sent by God. Christ is therefore from God, and the Apostles from Christ, and both according to the will of God....Preaching therefore the word through the countries and cities, when they had proved in the Spirit the first - fruits of their teaching they appointed bishops and deacons for the faithful....They appointed them and then ordained them, so that when they themselves had passed away other tried men should carry on their ministry" (S. Clemens Rom. Epist. I ad Corinth. capp. 42, 44). On the one hand, therefore, it is necessary that the mission of teaching whatever Christ had taught should remain perpetual and immutable, and on the other that the duty of accepting and professing all their doctrine should likewise be perpetual and immutable. "Our Lord Jesus Christ, when in His Gospel He testifies that those who not are with Him are His enemies, does not designate any special form of heresy, but declares that all heretics who are not with Him and do not gather with Him, scatter His flock and are His adversaries: He that is not with Me is against Me, and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth" (S. Cyprianus, Ep. lxix., ad Magnum, n. I).

9. The Church, founded on these principles and mindful of her office, has done nothing with greater zeal and endeavour than she has displayed in guarding the integrity of the faith. Hence she regarded as rebels and expelled from the ranks of her children all who held beliefs on any point of doctrine different from her own. The Arians, the Montanists, the Novatians, the Quartodecimans, the Eutychians, did not certainly reject all Catholic doctrine: they abandoned only a certain portion of it. Still who does not know that they were declared heretics and banished from the bosom of the Church? In like manner were condemned all authors of heretical tenets who followed them in subsequent ages. "There can be nothing more dangerous than those heretics who admit nearly the whole cycle of doctrine, and yet by one word, as with a drop of poison, infect the real and simple faith taught by our Lord and handed down by Apostolic tradition" (Auctor Tract. de Fide Orthodoxa contra Arianos).

   The practice of the Church has always been the same, as is shown by the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, who were wont to hold as outside Catholic communion, and alien to the Church, whoever would recede in the least degree from any point of doctrine proposed by her authoritative Magisterium. Epiphanius, Augustine, Theodore :, drew up a long list of the heresies of their times. St. Augustine notes that other heresies may spring up, to a single one of which, should any one give his assent, he is by the very fact cut off from Catholic unity. "No one who merely disbelieves in all (these heresies) can for that reason regard himself as a Catholic or call himself one. For there may be or may arise some other heresies, which are not set out in this work of ours, and, if any one holds to one single one of these he is not a Catholic" (S. Augustinus, De Haeresibus, n. 88).

   The need of this divinely instituted means for the preservation of unity, about which we speak is urged by St. Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians. In this he first admonishes them to preserve with every care concord of minds: "Solicitous to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. iv., 3, et seq.). And as souls cannot be perfectly united in charity unless minds agree in faith, he wishes all to hold the same faith: "One Lord, one faith," and this so perfectly one as to prevent all danger of error: "that henceforth we be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the wickedness of men, by cunning craftiness, by which they lie in wait to deceive" (Eph. iv., 14): and this he teaches is to be observed, not for a time only - "but until we all meet in the unity of faith...unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ" (13). But, in what has Christ placed the primary principle, and the means of preserving this unity? In that - "He gave some Apostles - and other some pastors and doctors, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (11-12).

   Wherefore, from the very earliest times the fathers and doctors of the Church have been accustomed to follow and, with one accord to defend this rule. Origen writes: "As often as the heretics allege the possession of the canonical scriptures, to which all Christians give unanimous assent, they seem to say: 'Behold the word of truth is in the houses.' But we should believe them not and abandon not the primary and ecclesiastical tradition. We should believe not otherwise than has been handed down by the tradition of the Church of God" (Vetus Interpretatio Commentariorum in Matt. n. 46). Irenaeus too says: "The doctrine of the Apostles is the true faith...which is known to us through the Episcopal succession...which has reached even unto our age by the very fact that the Scriptures have been zealously guarded and fully interpreted" (Contra Haereses, lib. iv., cap. 33, n. 8). And Tertullian: "It is therefore clear that all doctrine which agrees with that of the Apostolic churches - the matrices and original centres of the faith, must be looked upon as the truth, holding without hesitation that the Church received it from the Apostles, the Apostles from Christ and Christ from God....We are in communion with the Apostolic churches, and by the very fact that they agree amongst themselves we have a testimony of the truth" (De Praescrip., cap. xxxi). And so Hilary: "Christ teaching from the ship signifies that those who are outside the Church can never grasp the divine teaching; for the ship typifies the Church where the word of life is deposited and preached. Those who are outside are like sterile and worthless sand: they cannot comprehend" (Comment. in Matt. xiii., n. 1). Rufinus praises Gregory of Nazianzum and Basil because "they studied the text of Holy Scripture alone, and took the interpretation of its meaning not from their own inner consciousness, but from the writings and on the authority of the ancients, who in their turn, as it is clear, took their rule for understanding the meaning from the Apostolic succession" (Hist. Eccl., lib. ii., cap. 9).

   Wherefore, as appears from what has been said, Christ instituted in the Church a living, authoritative and permanent Magisterium, which by His own power He strengthened, by the Spirit of truth He taught, and by miracles confirmed. He willed and ordered, under the gravest penalties, that its teachings should be received as if they were His own. As often, therefore, as it is declared on the authority of this teaching that this or that is contained in the deposit of divine revelation, it must be believed by every one as true. If it could in any way be false, an evident contradiction follows; for then God Himself would be the author of error in man. "Lord, if we be in error, we are being deceived by Thee" (Richardus de S. Victore, De Trin., lib. i., cap. 2). In this wise, all cause for doubting being removed, can it be lawful for anyone to reject any one of those truths without by the very fact falling into heresy? without separating himself from the Church? - without repudiating in one sweeping act the whole of Christian teaching? For such is the nature of faith that nothing can be more absurd than to accept some things and reject others. Faith, as the Church teaches, is "that supernatural virtue by which, through the help of God and through the assistance of His grace, we believe what he has revealed to be true, not on account of the intrinsic truth perceived by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God Himself, the Revealer, who can neither deceive nor be deceived" (Conc. Vat., Sess. iii., cap. 3). If then it be certain that anything is revealed by God, and this is not believed, then nothing whatever is believed by divine Faith: for what the Apostle St. James judges to be the effect of a moral delinquency, the same is to be said of an erroneous opinion in the matter of faith. "Whosoever shall offend in one point, is become guilty of all" (Ep. James ii., 10). Nay, it applies with greater force to an erroneous opinion. For it can be said with less truth that every law is violated by one who commits a single sin, since it may be that he only virtually despises the majesty of God the Legislator. But he who dissents even in one point from divinely revealed truth absolutely rejects all faith, since he thereby refuses to honour God as the supreme truth and the formal motive of faith. "In many things they are with me, in a few things not with me; but in those few things in which they are not with me the many things in which they are will not profit them" (S. Augustinus in Psal. liv., n. 19). And this indeed most deservedly; for they, who take from Christian doctrine what they please, lean on their own judgments, not on faith; and not "bringing into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. x., 5), they more truly obey themselves than God. "You, who believe what you like, believe yourselves rather than the gospel" (S. Augustinus, lib. xvii., Contra Faustum Manichaeum, cap. 3).

   For this reason the Fathers of the Vatican Council laid down nothing new, but followed divine revelation and the acknowledged and invariable teaching of the Church as to the very nature of faith, when they decreed as follows: "All those things are to be believed by divine and Catholic faith which are contained in the written or unwritten word of God, and which are pro posed by the Church as divinely revealed, either by a solemn definition or in the exercise of its ordinary and universal Magisterium" (Sess. iii., cap. 3). Hence, as it is clear that God absolutely willed that there should be unity in His Church, and as it is evident what kind of unity He willed, and by means of what principle He ordained that this unity should be maintained, we may address the following words of St. Augustine to all who have not deliberately closed their minds to the truth: "When we see the great help of God, such manifest progress and such abundant fruit, shall we hesitate to take refuge in the bosom of that Church, which, as is evident to all, possesses the supreme authority of the Apostolic See through the Episcopal succession? In vain do heretics rage round it; they are condemned partly by the judgment of the people themselves, partly by the weight of councils, partly by the splendid evidence of miracles. To refuse to the Church the primacy is most impious and above measure arrogant. And if all learning, no matter how easy and common it may be, in order to be fully understood requires a teacher and master, what can be greater evidence of pride and rashness than to be unwilling to learn about the books of the divine mysteries from the proper interpreter, and to wish to condemn them unknown?" (De Unitate Credendi, cap. xvii., n. 35).

   It is then undoubtedly the office of the church to guard Christian doctrine and to propagate it in its integrity and purity. But this is not all: the object for which the Church has been instituted is not wholly attained by the performance of this duty. For, since Jesus Christ delivered Himself up for the salvation of the human race, and to this end directed all His teaching and commands, so He ordered the Church to strive, by the truth of its doctrine, to sanctify and to save mankind. But faith alone cannot compass so great, excellent, and important an end. There must needs be also the fitting and devout worship of God, which is to be found chiefly in the divine Sacrifice and in the dispensation of the Sacraments, as well as salutary laws and discipline. All these must be found in the Church, since it continues the mission of the Saviour for ever. The Church alone offers to the human race that religion - that state of absolute perfection - which He wished, as it were, to be incorporated in it. And it alone supplies those means of salvation which accord with the ordinary counsels of Providence.

10. But as this heavenly doctrine was never left to the arbitrary judgment of private individuals, but, in the beginning delivered by Jesus Christ, was afterwards committed by Him exclusively to the Magisterium already named, so the power of performing and administering the divine mysteries, together with the authority of ruling and governing, was not bestowed by God on all Christians indiscriminately, but on certain chosen persons. For to the Apostles and their legitimate successors alone these words have reference: "Going into the whole world preach the Gospel." "Baptizing them." "Do this in commemoration of Me." "Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them." And in like manner He ordered the Apostles only and those who should lawfully succeed them to feed - that is to govern with authority - all Christian souls. Whence it also follows that it is necessarily the duty of Christians to be subject and to obey. And these duties of the Apostolic office are, in general, all included in the words of St. Paul: "Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and the dispensers of the mysteries of God" (I Cor. iv., I).

   Wherefore Jesus Christ bade all men, present and future, follow Him as their leader and Saviour; and this, not merely as individuals, but as forming a society, organized and united in mind. In this way a duly constituted society should exist, formed out of the divided multitude of peoples, one in faith, one in end, one in the participation of the means adapted to the attainment of the end, and one as subject to one and the same authority. To this end He established in the Church all principles which necessarily tend to make organized human societies, and through which they attain the perfection proper to each. That is, in it (the Church), all who wished to be the sons of God by adoption might attain to the perfection demanded by their high calling, and might obtain salvation. The Church, therefore, as we have said, is man's guide to whatever pertains to Heaven. This is the office appointed unto it by God: that it may watch over and may order all that concerns religion, and may, without let or hindrance, exercise, according to its judgment, its charge over Christianity. Wherefore they who pretend that the Church has any wish to interfere in Civil matters, or to infringe upon the rights of the State, know it not, or wickedly calumniate it.

   God indeed even made the Church a society far more perfect than any other. For the end for which the Church exists is as much higher than the end of other societies as divine grace is above nature, as immortal blessings are above the transitory things on the earth. Therefore the Church is a society divine in its origin, supernatural in its end and in means proximately adapted to the attainment of that end; but it is a human community inasmuch as it is composed of men. For this reason we find it called in Holy Writ by names indicating a perfect society. It is spoken of as the House of God, the city placed upon the mountain to which all nations must come. But it is also the fold presided over by one Shepherd, and into which all Christ's sheep must betake themselves. Yea, it is called the kingdom which God has raised up and which will stand for ever. Finally it is the body of Christ - that is, of course, His mystical body, but a body living and duly organized and composed of many members; members indeed which have not all the same functions, but which, united one to the other, are kept bound together by the guidance and authority of the head.

   Indeed no true and perfect human society can be conceived which is not governed by some supreme authority. Christ therefore must have given to His Church a supreme authority to which all Christians must render obedience. For this reason, as the unity of the faith is of necessity required for the unity of the church, inasmuch as it is the body of the faithful, so also for this same unity, inasmuch as the Church is a divinely constituted society, unity of government, which effects and involves unity of communion, is necessary jure divino. "The unity of the Church is manifested in the mutual connection or communication of its members, and likewise in the relation of all the members of the Church to one head" (St. Thomas, 2a 2ae, 9, xxxix., a. I). From this it is easy to see that men can fall away from the unity of the Church by schism, as well as by heresy. "We think that this difference exists between heresy and schism" (writes St. Jerome): "heresy has no perfect dogmatic teaching, whereas schism, through some Episcopal dissent, also separates from the Church" (S. Hieronymus, Comment. in Epist. ad Titum, cap. iii., v. 1011). In which judgment St. John Chrysostom concurs: "I say and protest (he writes) that it is as wrong to divide the Church as to fall into heresy" (Hom. xi., in Epist. ad Ephes., n. 5). Wherefore as no heresy can ever be justifiable, so in like manner there can be no justification for schism. "There is nothing more grievous than the sacrilege of schism....there can be no just necessity for destroying the unity of the Church" (S. Augustinus, Contra Epistolam Parmeniani, lib. ii., cap. ii., n. 25).

11. The nature of this supreme authority, which all Christians are bound to obey, can be ascertained only by finding out what was the evident and positive will of Christ. Certainly Christ is a King for ever; and though invisible, He continues unto the end of time to govern and guard His church from Heaven. But since He willed that His kingdom should be visible He was obliged, when He ascended into Heaven, to designate a vice-gerent on earth. "Should anyone say that Christ is the one head and the one shepherd, the one spouse of the one Church, he does not give an adequate reply. It is clear, indeed, that Christ is the author of grace in the Sacraments of the Church; it is Christ Himself who baptizes; it is He who forgives sins; it is He who is the true priest who hath offered Himself upon the altar of the cross, and it is by His power that His body is daily consecrated upon the altar; and still, because He was not to be visibly present to all the faithful, He made choice of ministers through whom the aforesaid Sacraments should be dispensed to the faithful as said above" (cap. 74). "For the same reason, therefore, because He was about to withdraw His visible presence from the Church, it was necessary that He should appoint someone in His place, to have the charge of the Universal Church. Hence before His Ascension He said to Peter: 'Feed my sheep' " (St. Thomas, Contra Gentiles, lib. iv., cap. 76).

   Jesus Christ, therefore, appointed Peter to be that head of the Church; and He also determined that the authority instituted in perpetuity for the salvation of all should be inherited by His successors, in whom the same permanent authority of Peter himself should continue. And so He made that remarkable promise to Peter and to no one else: "Thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church" (Matt. xvi., 18). "To Peter the Lord spoke: to one, therefore, that He might establish unity upon one" (S. Pacianus ad Sempronium, Ep. iii., n. 11). "Without any prelude He mentions St. Peter's name and that of his father (Blessed art thou Simon, son of John) and He does not wish Him to be called any more Simon; claiming him for Himself according to His divine authority He aptly names him Peter, from petra the rock, since upon him He was about to found His Church" (S. Cyrillus Alexandrinus, In Evang. Joan., lib. ii., in cap. i., v. 42).


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