Commissum Divinitus - Pope Gregory XVI - The Papal Library


Commissum Divinitus Encyclical of Pope Gregory XVI on Church and State May 17, 1835 To the Clergy of Switzerland. Venerable Brothers and Dearly Beloved Sons, Greetings and Apostolic Benediction. The duty of the apostolic office which God entrusted to Us demands that We continually watch over the Lord's flock. We especially direct all Our zeal and thoughts to provide as much assistance as We can whenever the eternal salvation of the sheep and the Catholic religion seem to be in danger.. We are aware of and deplore the fact that Our enemies cunningly try many things, and not without success. Their works are an open blow against the Christian flock and an injury to the Catholic cause. This sorrow is aggravated because those who want to deceive the unwary claim that they do not intend to subtract anything from the integrity of the faith. They pretend to have as their only purpose the protection of the rights of the laity. They attempt, by a false pretense of public interest, to introduce, widely disseminate, establish, and somehow sanction the erroneous and wicked teachings which they follow. 2. Hence they dared to call together an assembly to deliberate, and to fabricate a rule whereby aspects of the temporal power in ecclesiastical affairs were revealed and defined. You already know that We are speaking about those things which were nefariously accomplished during January of last year in Baden in the canton of Aargau. Because of them you experienced sharp sorrow and even now they make you anxious and concerned. We cannot keep secret the fact that in the beginning We were influenced to do nothing. We believed that the laymen gathered in the appointed place with no other intention than to study those matters which concern religion. We further believed they wanted to proceed so that they might not only discuss the many aspects of the ecclesiastical power, but also so that they might offer plans to those who wield high civil authority; those persons might then confirm and sanction the plans by force of law. 3. The acts of that meeting were recently published by Gynopedius at Frauenfeld. These acts contain the names of the men who were present at the meeting, the speeches given by some of them in the sessions, and the articles passed there. We were horrified in reading those speeches and articles and the principles contained in them. We knew then that novelties were being introduced in the Catholic Church which are contrary to its teaching and discipline and which lead to the destruction of souls. We cannot allow this in any way. 4. He who made everything and who governs by a prudent arrangement wanted order to flourish in His Church. He wanted some people to be in charge and govern and others to be subject and obey. Therefore, the Church has, by its divine institution, the power of the magisterium to teach and define matters of faith and morals and to interpret the Holy Scriptures without danger of error. It also has the power of governance to preserve and strengthen in the true doctrine those whom it welcomes as children and to make laws concerning all things which pertain to the salvation of souls, the exercise of the sacred ministry, and divine worship. Whoever opposes these laws makes himself guilty of a very serious crime. 5. This power of teaching and governing in matters of religion, given by Christ to His Spouse, belongs to the priests and bishops. Christ established this system not only so that the Church would in no way belong to the civil government of the state, but also so that it could be totally free and not subject in the least to any earthly domination. Jesus Christ did not commit the sacred trust of the revealed doctrine to the worldly leaders, but to the apostles and their successors. He said to them only: Whoever hears you, hears Me; whoever rejects you, rejects Me. These same apostles preached the Gospel, spread the Church, and established its discipline not in accordance with the pleasure of lay authority, but even in spite of it. Moreover, when the leaders of the synagogue dared command them to silence, Peter and John, who had used the evangelical freedom, responded: You be the judge of whether it is right in the eyes of God to listen to you rather than to God. Thus, if any secular power dominates the Church, controls its doctrine, or interferes so that it cannot promulgate laws concerning the holy ministry, divine worship, and the spiritual welfare of the faithful, it does so to the injury of the faith and the overturning of the divine ordinance of the Church and the nature of government. 6. These principles are firm, unchangeable, and supported by the authority and tradition of the ancient Fathers. Bishop Ossius of Cordoba wrote to Emperor Constantius: Do not become involved in ecclesiastical matters nor give us orders concerning these affairs. But rather learn this from us: God gives you the empire; He entrusts ecclesiastical power to us. Whoever secretly tries to snatch the empire away from you opposes God. By the same token, take care that you do not draw ecclesiastical power to yourself and become guilty of a great crime. The Christian leaders were aware of this and they considered it a glorious thing to acknowledge publicly. Among them was the great leader Basil who said in the eighth synod: What more can I say about you lay people? I have nothing else to say except that it is not permitted for you to speak concerning ecclesiastical matters. It is the duty of patriarchs, popes, and priests, to whom the duty of governing has been entrusted, to investigate and study these matters. They have the power of binding and loosing and of sanctifying. They are the ones who have the ecclesiastical and heavenly keys, not those who must be fed, sanctified, bound, and loosed. 7. However, in the Baden meeting the matter was discussed differently. The articles which came forth from it attack the sound doctrine of ecclesiastical power and lead the Church itself into a scandalous and unjust slavery. It is even subject to the judgment of lay authority in the promulgation of decrees concerning dogma, and its disciplinary laws are declared to lack force and effect unless they are promulgated by the agreement of secular authority with an added proposition concerning the penalties against those who disobey. What then? Power is given to that same civil authority either to approve or to oppose the celebration of the diocesan synods, to inspect the synods, to oversee seminaries, and to confirm the system of their internal governance established by bishops, to remove clerics from ecclesiastical duties, to govern the religious and moral instruction of the people, and finally to regulate everything which, they claim, pertains to the external discipline of the Church, although these things may be of a spiritual nature or character and may concern the worship of God and the salvation of souls. 8. There is nothing which belongs more to the Church and there is nothing Jesus Christ wanted more closely reserved for its shepherds than the dispensation of the sacraments He instituted. The power to judge concerning their dispensation belongs only to those whom He established as ministers of His work on earth. It is wicked if the civil authority appropriates for itself anything in this holy office! It is wicked if the civil authority prescribes anything at all concerning it or gives orders to the ministers of the sacraments! It is wicked if it tries with its laws to oppose the rules handed down to Us in writing or by oral tradition from the early Church concerning the distribution of the sacraments to the Christian people. Our predecessor St. Gelasius said in his letter to Emperor Anastasius: You know, most merciful son, that you are allowed to rule over the human race. Nevertheless, submit yourself to the bis

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