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Papal Library

Evangelica Testificatio-Pope Paul VI-The Papal Library

by Catherine Frakas 17 Mar 2021

Evangelica Testificatio Apostolic Exhortation of His Holiness Pope Paul VIon the Renewal of the Religious Life According to the Teaching of the Second Vatican Council June 29, 1971 To the Episcopate, to the Clergy and to all the Faithful of the entire world. Beloved Sons and Daughters in Christ, 1. The evangelical witness of the religious life clearly manifests to men the primacy of the love of God; it does this with a force for which We must give thanks to the Holy Spirit. In all simplicity-following the example given by Our venerated predecessor, John XXIII, on the eve of the Council(1)-We would like to tell you what hope is stirred up in Us, as well as in all the pastors and faithful of the Church, by the spiritual generosity of those men and women who have consecrated their lives to the Lord in the spirit and practice of the evangelical counsels. We wish also to assist you to continue in your path of following Christ in faithfulness to the council's teaching. 2. By doing this, We wish to respond to the anxiety, uncertainty and instability shown by some; at the same time We wish to encourage those who are seeking the true renewal of the religious life. The boldness of certain arbitrary transformations, an exaggerated distrust of the past-even when it witnesses to the wisdom and vigor of ecclesial traditions-and a mentality excessively preoccupied with hastily conforming to the profound changes which disturb Our times have succeeded in leading some to consider as outmoded the specific forms of religious life. Has not appeal even unjustly been made to the Council to cast doubt on the very principle of religious life? And yet it is well known that the Council recognized this special gift as having a choice place in the life of the Church, because it enables those who have received it to be more closely conformed to that manner of virginal and humble life which Christ the Lord elected for Himself, and which His Virgin Mother also chose.(2) The Council has also indicated the ways for the renewal of religious life in accordance with the Gospel.(3) 3. From the beginning, the tradition of the Church-is it perhaps necessary to recall it?-presents us with this privileged witness of a constant seeking for God, of an undivided love for Christ alone, and of an absolute dedication to the growth of His kingdom. Without this concrete sign there would be a danger that the charity which animates the entire Church would grow cold, that the salvific paradox of the Gospel would be blunted, and that the salt of faith would lose its savor in a world undergoing secularization. From the first centuries, the Holy Spirit has stirred up, side by side with the heroic confession of the martyrs, the wonderful strength of disciples and virgins, of hermits and anchorites. Religious life already existed in germ, and progressively it felt the growing need of developing and of taking on different forms of community or solitary life, in order to respond to the pressing invitation of Christ: There is no one who has left house, wife, brothers, parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not be given repayment many times over in this present time, and, in the world to come, eternal life.(4) Who would venture to hold that such a calling today no longer has the same value and vigor? That the Church could do without these exceptional witnesses of the transcendence of the love of Christ? Or that the world without damage to itself could allow these lights to go out? They are lights which announce the kingdom of God with a liberty which knows no obstacles and is daily lived by thousands of sons and daughters of the Church. 4. Dear sons and daughters, you have wished by means of the practice of the evangelical counsels to follow Christ more freely and to imitate Him more faithfully, dedicating your entire lives to God with a special consecration rooted in that of Baptism and expressing it with greater fullness: could you but understand all the esteem and the affection that We have for you in the name of Christ Jesus! We commend you to Our most dear brothers in the episcopate who, together with their collaborators in the priesthood, realize their own responsibility in regard to the religious life. And We ask all the laity to whom secular duties and activities belong properly, although not exclusively(5) to understand what a strong help you are for them in the striving for that holiness, to which they also are called by their baptism in Christ, to the glory of the Father.(6) 5. Certainly many exterior elements, recommended by founders of orders or religious congregations are seen today to be outmoded. Various encumbrances or rigid forms accumulated over the centuries need to be curtailed. Adaptations must be made. New forms can even be sought and instituted with the approval of the Church. For some years now the greater part of religious institutes have been generously dedicating themselves to the attainment of this goal, experimenting-sometimes too hardily-with new types of constitutions and rules. We know well and We are following with attention this effort at renewal which was desired by the Council.(7) 6. How can We assist you to make the necessary discernment in this dynamic process itself, in which there is the constant risk that the spirit of the world will be intermingled with the action of the Holy Spirit? How can what is essential be safeguarded or attained? How can benefit be obtained from past experience and from present reflection, in order to strengthen this form of evangelical life? According to the singular responsibility which the Lord has given us in His Church- that of confirming our brethren(8)-We would like to encourage you to proceed with greater sureness and with more joyful confidence along the way that you have chosen. In the pursuit of perfect charity(9) which guides your existence, what attitude could you have other than a total surrender to the Holy Spirit who, working in the Church, calls you to the freedom of the sons of God?(10) 7. Dear sons and daughters, by a free response to the call of the Holy Spirit you have decided to follow Christ, consecrating yourselves totally to Him. The evangelical counsels of chastity vowed to God, of poverty and of obedience have now become the law of your existence. The Council reminds us that the authority of the Church has taken care, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to interpret these evangelical counsels, to regulate their practice, and also to establish stable forms of living according to them.(11) In this way, the Church recognizes and authenticates the state of life established by the profession of the evangelical counsels: The faithful of Christ can bind themselves to the three previously mentioned counsels either by vows, or by other sacred bonds which are like vows in their purpose. Through such a bond a person is totally dedicated to God by an act of supreme love.... It is true that through Baptism he has died to sin and has been consecrated to God. However, in order to derive more abundant fruit from this baptismal grace, he intends, by the profession of the evangelical counsels in the Church, to free himself from those obstacles which might draw him away from the fervor of charity and the perfection of divine worship. Thus he is more intimately consecrated to divine service. This consecration will be the more perfect to the extent that, through more firm and stable bonds, the indissoluble union of Christ with his Spouse the Church is more perfectly represented.(12) This teaching of the Co

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