Address to Seminarians

Author: Pius XII


Pope Pius XII

On the 24th of June, 1939, His Holiness Pius XII delivered the following speech from a balcony of the Vatican, to the assembled students of seminaries, colleges, and institutes of both the secular and regular clergy of all nationalities, who are being trained for the priesthood in the Eternal City.

Your coming together in this solemn assembly, beloved sons, is a proof of your devotion and affection for the Vicar of Christ on earth, and it fills Our heart with joy and high satisfaction. For We see before Us a gathering which comprises every kind of distinction, and in which one especially admires the abundant variety of its intellectual complexion. We are delighted to see the select group of doctors distinguished in sacred studies, the corps of teachers and superiors giving their best service so that the students entrusted to them may be well and faithfully trained and may become excellent priests; but most of all We are won by the spectacle of this aggregation of chosen young men, drawn not alone from the clergy of Rome of Italy, but from all Europe and the entire world. Seeing them united in purpose and in action to become-under the guidance and leadership of the successor of Saint Peter-fit instruments for the diffusion of the doctrine and grace of Christ in the hearts of men, We cannot but give most fervent thanks to Almighty God for this abundance of divine vocations; the more so as the young men here present represent many thousands more-all throughout the world who aspire to the priesthood.

"You are the light of the world," said Christ to the Apostles (Matt. V, 14). Light enlightens; the sun gives warmth. Behold your destiny, the purpose assigned to the Catholic priesthood to be the supernatural sun to enlighten the minds of men with the truth of Christ, to inflame their hearts with the love of Christ. And to this same destiny and assigned purpose the preparation and training for the priesthood must also correspond.

If you are to be the light of truth, which comes from Christ, you must yourselves be first illumined with that truth. It is for this that you are devoting yourselves to sacred studies. If you would enkindle men's souls with the charity of Christ, you must first glow with that same charity yourselves; this is the purpose of your religious and ascetical training.

You know that the studies of the clergy are governed by the famous Constitution, Deus <scientiarum Dominus>, issued by Our Predecessor of happy memory, Pius XI. That Constitution makes a careful distinction, which must be diligently observed in practice, between the principal subjects (together with those which are accessory or auxiliary), and the others which are called special. The former-and professors in this manner of teaching and examining must carefully observe this-must occupy the principal place and be as it were the center of the curriculum; the latter must be so taught and practiced as to accompany and complement the principal subjects without demanding too much labor and without ever prejudicing in the slightest degree the study of the principal subjects which must be thorough and supreme.

It is also very wisely provided, and is to be duly observed, that "professors must treat the subjects of rational philosophy and theology and instruct the students in them in accordance with the method, doctrine, and principles of the Angelic Doctor, which they must faithfully retain" (c. 1366). For the wisdom of Aquinas throws a vivid light upon the truths of natural philosophy and wonderfully binds them together in a firm and coherent unity; it is excellently adapted to declare and defend the dogmas of the faith; finally, it is sufficient effectively to check and to conquer the principal errors which are rampant in every age. Be full of devotion, therefore, beloved sons, and of enthusiasm for Saint Thomas: bend all your efforts to grasp his lucid doctrine, embrace wholeheartedly whatever clearly belongs and is safely regarded as essential to it.

These injunctions already given by Our Predecessors, We deem it appropriate to recall now, and if they failed anywhere to be heard, to promulgate anew. At the same time We make Our own the warnings of those same Predecessors, whereby they sought to protect genuine progress in science and lawful liberty of research. We thoroughly approve and recommend that the ancient wisdom be brought into accord, if need be, with the new discoveries of scholarship; that there be free discussion of points on which reputable students of the Angelic Doctor commonly argue; that fresh resources be drawn from history for the better understanding of the text of Saint Thomas. Let no private person "set himself up as teacher in the Church" (Benedict XV, AAS 6-576); nor let anyone "require of others more than is required of all by the Church herself who is the teacher and mother of all" (Pius XI, quoted in CANON LAW DIGEST, Vol. 1, P. 669; AAS 15-309); finally, let there be no encouragement of useless dissensions.

If these points are observed, as We confidently hope, abundant progress in scholarship may be expected. For a proper rivalry in discovering and spreading the truth is not suppressed, but rather stimulated and directed, by regard for the doctrine of Saint Thomas.

But, that your education may be abundantly fruitful, it is necessary, dear young men, and We earnestly exhort you to this, that the knowledge which you draw from your courses be not directed merely to the passing of examinations, but that it leave a permanent stamp upon your minds never to be effaced, which will enable you, when the need arises, to express in speech or writing whatever serves to propagate Catholic truth and to bring men to Christ.

What We have said applies both to divine revelation and to its rational premises, that is, to the exposition or defense of the principles of Christian philosophy. That relativism which Our Predecessor of immortal memory Pius XI compared to dogmatic modernism and strenuously condemned, calling it "moral, juridical, and social modernism" (Encyclical, <Ubi arcano>: AAS 14- 696)-this modernism, I say, you as preachers of the Gospel must fearlessly refute by presenting the perfect and absolute truths which come from God, which are the necessary source of the primary duties and rights of the individual, the family, and the State, and without which the worth and welfare of civil society cannot stand. And you will do it splendidly if these truths so take possession of your souls that you are ready, for them as for the mysteries of the faith, to undertake any labor, to bear any hardship.

You must also see to it that you present the truth so that it can be rightly understood and appreciated, using always clear and never ambiguous terms, avoid unnecessary and harmful changes of expression which easily modify the substance of the truth. Such has ever been the practice and usage of the Catholic Church. And it agrees with that saying of Saint Paul: "Jesus Christ...was not: <It is> and <It is not>; but, <It is>, was in him" (II Cor. 1, 19).

If we consider the order of divine revelation and the mysteries of the Catholic faith, it is true that the immense progress that has been made in investigating and using the forces of nature, and still more the blare with which purely earthly culture is proclaimed, have so disquieted many minds that they are scarcely able to grasp supernatural truth. Yet the fact remains that zealous priests deeply imbued with the truths of faith and filled with the Spirit of God have had in our day greater and more wonderful successes than perhaps in any other age in winning souls to Christ. That you, too, may become priests of this type, after the teaching and example of Saint Paul, you must have the highest ardor for the study of <theology>, both biblical-positive and speculative. Be thoroughly assured that today the faithful are most anxious to find good pastors and learned confessors. Apply yourself fervently then to the study of moral theology and canon law. For canon law, too, is for the good of souls, and all its rules and laws tend chiefly to this ultimate purpose that men may live sanctified by God's grace and may die holy deaths.

<Historical studies>, in so far as they are pursued in schools, should not be limited to critical and merely apologetic questions, though these, too, have their value, but should rather be always directed to setting forth the active life of the Church: to show what work the Church has done; how much she has suffered; by what means and with what success she has fulfilled her mission; the works of charity which she has done; where lie the dangers that threaten her welfare; under what conditions the public relations between Church and State have been favorable or the contrary; how far the Church can yield to the political power, and when she must stand firm: finally they must develop a mature judgment as to the Church's condition and a sincere love for her-these are the fruits which the study of ecclesiastical history should produce in the student, and especially in you, beloved sons, who are living here in Rome where ancient monuments, well-equipped libraries, and archives open to study and research lay bare, as it were, for inspection the life of the Church through the centuries.

To keep up your courage and spiritual vigor, beloved sons, you should every day if possible imbibe from the bountiful springs of the sacred books, especially of the New Testament, the genuine spirit of Jesus Christ and the Apostles, who should ever shine forth in your souls, your words, and your works. Be tireless in work even during the vacation, so that your superiors may be able to say with confidence: "So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. V, 16).

It is your divine calling to pave the way in men's souls for the love and grace of Jesus Christ. To do it you must yourselves first be enkindled with that love. And this you must do by union with Christ in <prayer> and <sacrifice.>

Union in prayer: indeed if you ask Us what is Our message to priests at the beginning of Our Pontificate, We answer: <Pray! Pray more, and more earnestly.>

And union in sacrifice: in the sacrifice of the Eucharist; yet not in that alone, but also in the sacrifice of self. For you know that one of the effects of the Most Blessed Eucharist is to give strength to those who assist at and receive it to sacrifice and deny themselves. The various forms of Christian asceticism may be and remain different in many secondary points; but none of them knows a road to the charity of Christ without the sacrifice of self. Christ demanded this of His followers when He said: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Luke IX, 23), when he expressly stated that the way to the love of God lay in the observance of the commandments (John XV, 10); when finally, speaking especially to His Apostles, He made that mysterious pronouncement: "Amen, amen I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John XII, 24, 25).

The priestly office demands of you, We may say, extraordinary sacrifices, among them that central and complete sacrifice of self to the service of Christ by celibacy. Test yourselves! And if any find themselves unable to keep that obligation, We beg them to withdraw from the seminary and go elsewhere, where they may live a good and useful life, whereas in the priesthood they would be in danger of losing their souls and of bringing discredit upon the Church. As for those who have already entered or are about to enter the priestly state, We exhort them to make their consecration complete and generous. Take care that you be not surpassed in generosity by countless laymen who in these days patiently bear all sorts of hardships for the glory of God and the faith of Christ; in this combat you must show them the way by your example; by your labors and devotion you must win for them and for all men divine grace in life and in death.

Furthermore "this commandment we have from God, that he who loveth God love also his brother" (1 John IV, 21). This love of the neighbor, our Lord declared to be the sign and as it were the token of every Christian; much more should it be characteristic of the Catholic priest. For that matter, it cannot be dissociated from the love of God, as the Apostle Paul clearly shows when, in his magnificent encomium of charity, he beautifully represents the love of God and of the neighbor as two aspects of the same thing (1 Cor. XIII). This love of the neighbor knows no limitations; it extends to all men, of whatever tongue, or nationality, or race. Take advantage, dear sons, of the precious and extraordinary opportunity which your stay in Rome affords you to practice this charity toward the multitude of your companions who, though they come from various and far-distant countries, yet all belong to the same time, have the same faith, the same vocation, the same love for Christ, and finally the same standing in the Church. Use this opportunity to cultivate the charity of Christ, and let neither word nor act on your part wound it in the slightest. Leave political alliances to others; it is not your business to treat of them. Do you communicate to each other the things that concern and promote the apostolate, the care of souls, the condition and progress of the Church.

Finally, if you would grow in love for Christ you must cultivate filial obedience, confidence, and love for the Vicar of Christ. For in him you show reverence and obedience to Christ: in him Christ Himself is with you. It is impossible to separate the Church as a juridical body from the Church as a union of charity. No; the same Church juridically established with the Pope as its head, is the Church of Christ, the Church of divine charity, the universal family of Christians. The same sentiments of affection which in a truly Christian family intimately unite the father with the sons, the sons with the father, should exist between Us and you. And you who live in this Eternal City and observe how this Apostolic See neglecting all merely human considerations, thinks of nothing, seeks nothing other than the advantage, happiness, and welfare of the faithful and of the entire human race, must communicate the confidence which this experience gives you to your brothers throughout the world, so that all may be united with the Supreme Pontiff in the charity of Christ.

Your priestly apostolate enlightened with divine truth and fired with the love of Christ, in the midst of the cruel upheavals of a world which is a stranger to truth and love in the midst of difficulties and hardships-which are, as it were the privileges of all who labor in the apostolate, accompanying them everywhere as by a kind of natural necessity-will bear abundant fruit for the salvation of souls; and it will also, with God's grace, bring that happy consolation with which the holy Apostle of the Gentiles was filled when he exclaimed: "By Christ cloth our comfort abound" (11 Cor. 1, 5).

God alone knows the ways by which His divine Providence shall lead each one of you, the ups and downs of your lives, the sufferings that await you in rocky and thorny paths. But there is one definite certainty crowning the life of every priest imbued with the truth and love of Christ-hope in Him "who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Col. XV, 57).

In whom then should this certainty of supernatural victory be more deeply rooted than in you, who at the tombs of the Apostles and the catacombs of the martyrs have imbibed the spirit which has renewed the human race and which even now reminds us that the promises of Jesus Christ are still valid? To you therefore, beloved sons, We earnestly repeat what Saint Paul in his joy and confidence of the fruit of his apostolate exclaims: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast and unmovable; always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. XV, 58).

In this hope, and invoking upon all and each of you the abundant graces of the Eternal <Pontifex,> as a pledge of that illuminating and comforting grace, We lovingly give you in our Lord the Apostolic Benediction. AAS 31-245; Pius XII, 24 June, 1939.

(<Clerical Studies: Speech of His Holiness to All Clerical Students in Rome> (Pius XII, 24 June, 1939) AAS 31-245.)

Reprinted from <The Canon Law Digest>, Vol. II, pp. 427-433 with permission of the author, Rev. T. Lincoln Bouscaren, SJ., and The Bruce Publishing Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Copyrighted.