Christian teaching reveals God and His infinite perfection with far greater clarity than is possible by the human faculties alone. Only it reveals the truly remarkable dignity of man as the son of the heavenly Father.
Our Predecessor, Benedict XIV, had just cause to write: “We declare that a great number of those who are condemned to eternal punishment suffer that everlasting calamity due to ignorance of those mysteries of Faith which must be known and believed in order to be numbered among the elect.”1
There is then, Venerable Brethren, no reason for wonder that the corruption of morals and depravity of life is already so great, and increases daily, not only among uncivilized peoples but even in those very nations that are called Christian. […]
It commands us to honour God and love one another as brothers
The holy king David, praising God for the light of truth with which He had illumined the human intellect, exclaimed: “The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us” (Ps 4:7). Then he described the effect of this light by adding: “Thou hast given gladness in my heart” (Ps 4:7), gladness, that is, which enlarges our heart so that it runs in the way of God’s Commandments.
All this becomes evident on a little reflection. Christian teaching reveals God and His infinite perfection with far greater clarity than is possible by the human faculties alone. Nor is that all. This same Christian teaching also commands us to honour God by faith, which is of the mind, by hope, which is of the will, by love, which is of the heart; and thus the whole man is subjected to the supreme Maker and Ruler of all things.
The truly remarkable dignity of man as the son of the heavenly Father, in whose image he is formed, and with whom he is destined to live in eternal happiness, is also revealed only by the doctrine of Jesus Christ. From this very dignity, and from man’s knowledge of it, Christ showed that men should love one another as brothers, and should live here as becomes children of light, “not of revelry and drunkenness, not in debauchery and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy” (Rom 13:13).
From teaching, our will draws that ardour which joins us to God
He also bids us place all our cares in God’s hands – for He will provide for us –, to help the poor, to do good to those who hate us, and to prefer the eternal welfare of the soul to the temporal goods of this life. Without touching on every detail, is it not true that the proud man is urged and commanded by the teaching of Christ to strive for humility, the source of true glory? “Whoever, therefore, humbles himself… is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 18:4).
From that same teaching we learn prudence of the spirit, and thereby we avoid prudence of the flesh; we learn justice, by which we give to every man his due; fortitude, which prepares us to endure all things and with steadfast heart suffer all things for the sake of God and eternal happiness; and, last of all, temperance through which we cherish even poverty borne out of love for God, nay, we even glory in the Cross itself, unmindful of its shame.
In fine, Christian teaching not only bestows on the intellect the light by which to attain truth, but from it our will draws that ardour by which we are raised up to God and joined with Him in the practice of virtue. […]
Vices that also spread among those in the higher walks of life
In order to enkindle the zeal of the ministers of God, We repeat that the number is great and ever-increasing of those who know nothing at all of religion, or who possess only such knowledge of God and of Christian truth as to permit them to live, in the full light of Catholic truth, as idolaters. How many there are, alas, not only among the young, but among adults and those advanced in years, who are altogether ignorant of the chief mysteries of the Faith; who on hearing the name of Christ can only ask: “Who is He. . . that I may believe in Him?” (Jn 9:36).
In consequence, they consider it no crime to excite and nourish hatred against their neighbour, to enter into most unjust contracts, to do business dishonestly, to hold the funds of others at an exorbitant interest rate, and commit other iniquities no less reprehensible. They are, moreover, ignorant of the law of Christ, which not only condemns immoral actions but also forbids deliberate immoral thoughts and desires. Even when for some motive they abstain from shameful actions, they nevertheless entertain evil thoughts without the least scruple, so that the number of their sins exceeds that of the number of the hairs of the head.
These persons are found, We deem it necessary to repeat, not merely among the poorer classes of the people or in sparsely settled districts, but also among those in the higher walks of life, even, indeed, among those puffed up with learning, who, relying upon a vain erudition, feel free to ridicule religion and to “deride whatever they do not know” (cf. Jude 10). […]
Faith needs the teaching of the Church to grow
It will not do to say, in excuse, that faith is a free gift of God bestowed upon each one at Baptism. It is true that when we are baptized in Christ, the habit of faith is infused, but this most divine seed, if left entirely to itself, is not like the mustard seed which “grows up. . . and puts out great branches” (Mk 4:32). Man has the faculty of understanding at his birth, but he also has need of his mother’s word to awaken it, as it were, and to make it active.
So too, the Christian, born again of water and the Holy Spirit, has faith within him, but he requires the word of the teaching Church to nourish and develop it and to make it bear fruit. Thus wrote the Apostle: “Faith then depends on hearing, and hearing on the word of Christ”; and to show the necessity of instruction, he added, “How are they to hear, if no one preaches?” (cf. Rom 10:14-17).
What We have said thus far demonstrates the supreme importance of religious instruction. We ought, therefore, to do all that lies in our power to maintain the teaching of Christian doctrine with full vigour, and where such is neglected, to restore it; for in the words of Our Predecessor, Benedict XIV, “There is nothing more effective than catechetical instruction to spread the glory of God and to secure the salvation of souls.”2 […]
And now, Venerable Brethren, permit Us to close this letter by addressing to you these words of Moses: “If any man be on the Lord’s side, let him join with me” (Ex 32:26). We pray and entreat you to reflect on the great ruin wreaked in souls due solely to ignorance of divine things.
You have doubtless accomplished many useful and most praiseworthy works in your respective dioceses for the good of the flock entrusted to your care, but before all else, and with all possible zeal and diligence and care, see to it and urge on others that the knowledge of Christian doctrine pervades and imbues fully and deeply the minds of all. Here, using the words of the Apostle Peter, We say, “According to the gift that each has received, administer it to one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pt 4:10). ◊