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The Church was founded by Jesus Christ to be the loving mother of the whole human family and minister to its salvation. All through the centuries, therefore, whenever men have yearned for the glory of Almighty God and the eternal salvation of souls, they have naturally made the Church the special object of their devotion and concern.
We find, of course, outstanding examples of such men in the persons of Christ's vicars on earth, countless thousands of bishops and priests, and a wonderful host of saintly Christians. It will not, therefore, come as a surprise when We acknowledge that Our own thoughts as We sit down to write this first encyclical of Our sovereign pontificate-to which God in his inscrutable designs has called Us-are naturally and inevitably concerned with the loving and reverent consideration of the subject of Holy Church.
The aim of this encyclical will be to demonstrate with increasing clarity how vital it is for the world, and how greatly desired by the Catholic Church, that the two should meet together, and get to know and love one another. Last year We were given by God's merciful grace a golden opportunity of addressing you in person.
It was on the feast of the Archangel Michael, when you were assembled together in St. Peter's basilica for the opening of the second session of Vatican II. We told you on that occasion that it was Our intention to do what other popes have done on their accession to the pontifical office: to write to you as your Father and Brother an encyclical letter proclaiming the policies which are uppermost in Our thoughts and which seem to Us to have a considerable practical bearing on the conduct of the first years of Our pontificate.
The declaration of these policies is not, in fact, an easy matter. All such policies must be derived first of all from an earnest consideration of divine doctrine, for even Christ Himself, we must remember, said: "My doctrine is not mine, but his who sent me. And finally We must bear in mind the actual situation in which human society today finds itself. Our task is to serve society. But Our present aim is not to expound new or duly developed insights.
That is the proper task of the Ecumentical Council. It is certainly not Our wish to disrupt the work of the council in this simple, conversational letter of Ours, but rather to commend it and to stimulate it.
Nor do We propose to make this encyclical a solemn proclamation of Catholic doctrine or of moral or social principles. Our purpose is merely to send you a sincere message, as between brothers and members of a common family. We do so in fulfillment of Our duty and with no other thought in mind than to open Our heart to you and to strengthen more and more and render more joyful that union of faith and love which happily exists between us.
We aim at increasingly better results from our pastoral activity, a more fruitful outcome of the sessions of the Ecumenical Council, and a clearer exposition of those doctrinal and practical rules which govern the spiritual and apostolic activity of the official rulers of the Church, their subjects, collaborators and well-wishers. In short, Venerable Brethren, there are three policies which principally exercise Our mind when We reflect on the enormous responsibility for the Church of Christ which, unsought and undeserved, the providence of God has laid upon Us in making Us Bishop of Rome, successor to St.
First We are convinced that the Church must look with penetrating eyes within itself, ponder the mystery of its own being, and draw enlightenment and inspiration from a deeper scrutiny of the doctrine of its own origin, nature, mission, and destiny. The doctrine is already known; it has been developed and popularized in the course of this century. But it can never claim to be sufficiently investigated and understood, for it contains "the publication of a mystery, kept hidden from the beginning of time in the all-creating mind of God.
It is a doctrine which more than any other is arousing the expectation and attention of every faithful follower of Christ, and especially of men like us, Venerable Brethren, whom "the Holy Spirit has appointed to rule the very Church of God.
A vivid and lively self-awareness on the part of the Church inevitably leads to a comparison between the ideal image of the Church as Christ envisaged it, His holy and spotless bride, 4 and the actual image which the Church presents to the world today. This actual image does indeed, thank God, truly bear those characteristics impressed on it by its divine Founder; and in the course of the centuries the Holy Spirit has accentuated and enhanced these traits so as to make the Church conform more and more to the original intention of its Founder and to the particular genius of human society which it is continually striving to win over to itself through the preaching of the gospel of salvation.
But the actual image of the Church will never attain to such a degree of perfection, beauty, holiness and splendor that it can be said to correspond perfectly with the original conception in the mind of Him who fashioned it. Hence the Church's heroic and impatient struggle for renewal: the struggle to correct those flaws introduced by its members which its own self-examination, mirroring its exemplar, Christ, points out to it and condemns.
And this brings us, Venerable Brethren, to the second policy We have in mind at this time: to bring the members of the Church to a clearer realization of their duty to correct their faults, strive for perfection, and make a wise choice of the means necessary for achieving the renewal We spoke of. We tell you this not only that We may Ourself find greater courage to introduce the appropriate reforms, but also in order to secure your sympathy, advice, and support in a matter of such urgency and difficulty.
These two policies of Ours-which are yours, of course, as well-lead naturally to a third policy, which has to do with the relations which the Church must establish with the surrounding world in which it lives and works. One part of this world, as everyone knows, has in recent years detached itself and broken away from the Christian foundations of its culture, although formerly it had been so imbued with Christianity and had drawn from it such strength and vigor that the people of these nations in many cases owe to Christianity all that is best in their own tradition-a fact that is not always fully appreciated.
Another and larger part of the world covers the vast territories of the so-called emerging nations. Taken as a whole, it is a world which offers to the Church not one but a hundred forms of possible contacts, some of which are open and easy, others difficult and problematic, and many, unfortunately, wholly unfavorable to friendly dialogue. It is at this point, therefore, that the problem of the Church's dialogue with the modern world arises.
It will be for the Council to determine the extent and complexity of this problem and to do what it can to devise suitable methods for its solution. But the very need to solve it is felt by Us-and by you too, whose experience of the urgency of the problem is no less than Our own-as a responsibility, a stimulus, an inner urge about which We cannot remain silent. We have thought fit to put this important and complex matter before you in council, and we must do what we can to make ourselves better prepared for these discussions and deliberations.
It will, of course, be clear to you from this brief outline of the contents of this encyclical that We have no intention of dealing here with all the serious and pressing problems affecting humanity no less than the Church at this present time; such questions as peace among nations and among social classes, the destitution and famine which still plague entire populations, the advance of the new nations toward independence and civilization, the current of modern thought over against Christian culture, the difficulties experienced by so many nations and by the Church in those extensive parts of the world where the rights of free citizens and of human beings are being denied, the moral problems concerning the population explosion, and so on.
What we cannot, however, fail to mention here is the fact that We are acutely conscious of Our duty to pay particular attention to the serious problem of world peace. It is a problem which demands Our continuous personal involvement and practical concern, exercised of course within the limits of Our own ministry and entirely divorced from any set political theory and from considerations of Our own personal and purely temporal advantage.
Our aim must be to educate mankind to sentiments and policies which are opposed to violent and deadly conflicts and to foster just, rational, and peaceful relations between States. We will do Our utmost to promote harmonious relations and a spirit of cooperation between nations, and We will do so by proclaiming principles which represent the highest achievement of human thought, and such as are best calculated to allay the selfishness and greed from which war takes its rise. Nor, if We are allowed the opportunity, will We fail to use our good offices in settling national disputes on a basis of fraternity and honor.
We do not forget that this service, besides being one dictated by love, is in fact a plain duty. It is a duty which the awareness of Our mission in the modern world renders all the more imperative when we consider the advances that have been made in theology and in international institutions. Our mission is to bring men together in mutual love through the power of that kingdom of justice and peace which Christ inaugurated by His coming into the world.
If, therefore, We confine Ourself here to a logical and fact-finding disquisition on the life of the Church, this does not mean that We are dismissing from Our mind those other highly important issues.
Some of them will be coming up before the Council for consideration, and We too, during the course of Our apostolic ministry, will study them and endeavor to and a practical solution to them, God giving Us the inspiration and the strength.
We believe that it is a duty of the Church at the present time to strive toward a clearer and deeper awareness of itself and its mission in the world, and of the treasury of truth of which it is heir and custodian.
Thus before embarking on the study of any particular problem and before considering what attitude to adopt vis-a-vis the world, the Church must here and now reflect on its own nature, the better to appreciate the divine plan which it is the Church's task to implement.
By doing this it will find a more revealing light, new energy and increased joy in the fulfillment of its own mission, and discover better ways of augmenting the effectiveness and fruitfulness of its contacts with the world. For the Church does indeed belong to the world, even though distinguished from it by its own altogether unique characteristics.
This act of self-examination on the part of the Church seems to Us to accord well with the method employed by God in revealing himself to men and initiating that religious, two-way relationship between God and man which is what the Church both effects in the world and manifests in itself. For whereas it is true that divine revelation was made "in divers ways and at divers times," 5 in an incontestably historical setting, it is also true that it was able to effect an entry into the very life of men by means involving both human speech and divine grace.
Grace comes secretly into the soul after the hearing of the message of salvation. This is followed by the act of faith, the beginning of our justification. We would wish this reflection on the origin and nature of those new and vital relationships which the Christian religion establishes between God and man to assume the character of an act of willing submission to what the divine Teacher said to those who listened to Him, and especially to the disciples, among whom we today rightly rejoice to be numbered.
From the many insistent and frequently reiterated commands of Our Lord We select one which would seem to have special relevance for Christ's faithful followers at the present time, namely that concerning Christian vigilance.
Now it is true that our Master's warning in this respect referred primarily to the need to be on the watch for the end of the world, which will have to come sooner or later. But precisely because this vigilance must always be present and operative in the mind of the faithful servant, it follows that everything that he sets his hand to, his whole way of life as a Christian in the world, should conform to this rule.
Our Lord's exhortation to vigilance is equally applicable to things which may be of more immediate concern to us, the dangers and temptations which threaten to corrupt men's moral lives and turn men away from the right path of truth.
Was this not in fact the theme of Our Lord's forerunner, St. John, whose preaching inaugurates in the Gospel the public ministry of Jesus Christ? And did not Jesus Christ Himself call upon men to receive God's kingdom interiorly? As a necessary condition for receiving the supernatural gifts of truth and grace in a way consistent with the dignity of the human person, Christ aimed at developing in men a psychological as well as a moral awareness.
This awareness was an awareness of their discipleship, which was later to have the effect of recalling to their minds everything that Jesus had taught them and everything that had happened to Him.
The Church's awareness of its divine mission coincided with its birth. Both events are celebrated at Pentecost. Both will develop together. The Church, that is, will develop as a well-organized, hierarchic and social body, and at the same time its awareness of its vocation, of its inner nature, its doctrine, and its mission, will likewise develop.
That is what St. Paul prayed for when he said: "And this I pray, that your charity may more and more abound in knowledge and in all understanding. In other words, Venerable Brethren, We are exhorting everyone-you and all those entrusted to your care, and the community of the faithful as a whole, that is, the Church-to make a conscious, generous, whole-hearted act of faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Our religious life must here and now be revitalized by this profession of faith. It must be a firm and resolute one, though always humble and diffident, like the faith of the man in St. John's Gospel who had been blind from birth. When Jesus, whose kindness was as wonderful as His power, restored to him his sight, the man replied: "I believe, Lord. Why, then, do We presume to invite you to show your awareness of the Church and to make this explicit, though interior, act of faith?
There are indeed many reasons, and of necessity, it would seem, they all derive from the unparalleled circumstances in which the Church finds itself today. The Church needs to reflect upon itself and to become aware of its own extraordinary vitality. It must strive to gain a fuller understanding of itself if it is to do what it has to do and bring to the world the message of salvation and brotherly love.
To use St. Paul's phrase, it must experience the indwelling presence of Christ: "May Christ find a dwelling place through faith in your hearts.
As we all know, the Church is deeply rooted in the world. It exists in the world and draws its members from the world. It derives from it a wealth of human culture. It shares its vicissitudes and promotes its prosperity. But we also know that the modern world is in the grip of change and upheaval. It is undergoing developments which are having a profound influence on its outward way of life and habits of thought. The great advances made in science, technology, and social life, and the various currents of philosophical and political thought pervading modern society, are greatly influencing men's opinions and their spiritual and cultural pursuits.
The Church itself is being engulfed and shaken by this tidal wave of change, for however much men may be committed to the Church, they are deeply affected by the climate of the world. They run the risk of becoming confused, bewildered and alarmed, and this is a state of affairs which strikes at the very roots of the Church.
It drives many people to adopt the most outlandish views. They imagine that the Church should abdicate its proper role, and adopt an entirely new and unprecedented mode of existence. Modernism might be cited as an example. This is an error which is still making its appearance under various new guises, wholly inconsistent with any genuine religious expression. It is surely an attempt on the part of secular philosophies and secular trends to vitiate the true teaching and discipline of the Church of Christ.