On a Return to Gospel Principles

Author: Pope Pius VII

DIU SATIS (On A Return To Gospel Principles)

Pope Pius VII

Encyclical Promulgated on 15 May 1800

To His Venerable Brothers, All Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops and Bishops in Union and Favor with the Apostolic See.

Venerable Brothers, We Give you Greeting and Our Apostolic Blessing.

Long enough have We been silent. Two months have already passed, months ofanxiety and toil, since God conferred on Us, despite Our weakness, the burden of this high office of guiding the entire Church. It is not so muchcustom as Our great love for you which impels Us to address you by at leastthis letter. We could have no sweeter nor so pleasant a task.

2. The particular part of Our duty which is expressed in the words,"strengthen your brethren," also urges Us to do so. For at the presentturbulent time, as much as ever, Satan "has sought after us all in order tosift us as wheat." Still who is so sluggish, so different-minded to Us notto understand fully that Christ does what He said He would do: "to pray forPeter that his faith should not fail[1] even in the present grimcircumstances. Later ages will be amazed at the wisdom, magnanimity, andfirmness of Our predecessor Pius VI. We could wish that We had alsoinherited his courage which withstood unshaken the blows of every storm andmisfortune.

3. Indeed, the famous Martin who long ago won great praise for this See,commends faithfulness and fortitude to Us by his strengthening and defenseof the truth and by the endurance of labors and pains. He was driven fromhis See and from the City, stripped of his rule, his rank, and his entirefortune. As soon as he arrived in any peaceful place, he was forced tomove. Despite his advanced age and an illness which prevented his walking,he was banished to a remote land and repeatedly threatened with an evenmore painful exile. Without the assistance offered by the pious generosityof individuals, he would not have had food for himself and his fewattendants. Although he was tempted daily in his weakened and lonely state,he never surrendered his integrity. No deceit could trick, no fear perturb,no promises conquer, no difficulties or dangers break him. His enemiescould extract from him no sign which would not prove to all that Peter"until this time and forever lives in his successors and exercises judgmentas is particularly clear in every age"[2] as an excellent writer at theCouncil of Ephesus says.

4. It is a fact of very great importance, and it should be recalledgratefully, that God conferred death on Pius VI (this expression is betterthan that He took life from him) at a time when there was no obstacle toduly deciding on his successor. Remember Our fear and suspense when theCardinals were personally expelled from their sees. Several of them wereimprisoned, some hunted for their lives, and many forced to cross the seain depths of winter, deprived of their possessions—all of them in want andseparated from one another by great distances. Since the enemy occupied theroads, they could not correspond with one another nor were they allowed togo anywhere. It was clear that they could never assemble to assist theChurch if any misfortune struck down Pius VI who was daily said to bebetween life and death.

5. Who would have dared at that time, with our affairs assailed and almostdestroyed, to hope on the basis of human plans and help for what hasactually happened by the special kindness of God? Before he died, Pius VIestablished the mode of holding the elections of his successors and most ofItaly was restored to peace. All arrangements were made for the cardinalsto meet in Venice to vote under the protection of Francis, Apostolic Kingof Hungary, illustrious King of Bohemia, and Emperor-elect of the Romans.

6. From these events men should realize that all attempts to overthrow the"House of God" are in vain. For this is the Church founded on Peter,"Rock," not merely in name but in truth. Against this "the gates of hellwill not prevail"[3] "for it is founded on a rock."[4] There has never beenan enemy of the Christian religion who was not simultaneously at wicked warwith the See of Peter, since while this See remained strong the survival ofthe Christian religion was assured. As St. Irenaeus proclaims openly toall, "by the order and succession of the Roman pontiffs the tradition fromthe Apostles in the Church and the proclamation of the truth has come downto us. And this is the fullest demonstration that it is the one and thesame life-giving faith which has been preserved in the Church until nowsince the time of the Apostles and has been handed on in truth."[5]

7. This is the direction of attack chosen by those men of today who replacewith the defiling plague of false philosophy, the philosophy (as the GreekFathers in particular rightly name Christian teaching) which the Son ofGod, who is eternal wisdom, brought down from heaven and imparted to men.But "it has been written"—and these words of Paul are aimed directly atsuch men—"'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the sense of thesensible I will reject.' Where is a wise man, where a scribe, where theexaminer of this world? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of thisworld?"[6]

8. We are led to recall those words, venerable brothers, especially sincethey marvellously refresh Us. They inspire Us to shun no toil on behalf ofChrist's Church which He has entrusted to Us to rule, protect, adorn, andextend, despite Our fear of this unexpected burden. Assuredly "He will makeus fitting ministers of the new testament as exaltation derives from thepower of God and not from Ourselves." Therefore I now urge you to join meand devote your eager effort to this objective. May Christ's prayer to HisFather never leave our minds: "Holy Father, keep them in your name thatthey may be one as We....not for these only (i.e. the Apostles) do I pray,but also for those who through their word will believe in me that they allmay be one as you, Father, in me and I in you, that they also may be one inus."[7]

9. "It is Our particular duty," as Cyprian says (in On the Unity of theChurch), "to uphold and defend this unity" so that the world may see,wonder and believe "that you have sent me," as Christ's prayer continues.Christ is with Us and never leaves Our side; he strengthens Us with thewords: "Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it fear. You believe inGod, believe also in me."[8] Relying on His help, let us work for thecommon safety with combined zeal.

10. Consolation and cure is called for by cities, towns, countryside,states, provinces, kingdoms, and nations, which for many years have beenattacked, defeated, destroyed, and made wretched. But this can be soughtand hoped for only from the teaching of Christ. We can now, with greaterconfidence, rebuke those who think otherwise with the words of St.Augustine: "Let them give us an army composed of soldiers such as Christ'steaching demands, such provincials, such veterans, such spouses, suchparents, such children, such masters, such servants, such kings, suchjudges, and finally such men as repay debts to the public treasury and suchtax-officials as the Christian teaching prescribes." Since they are notable to do so, "let them admit at once that obedience to this teachingwould be of great assistance to the state."[9]

11. Therefore it is Our duty to help men and nations who are in distress,and to eliminate all present and threatening evils. For "Christ has givenpastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of theministry, for the building up of Christ's Body, until we all come togetherto the unity of faith and knowledge of God's son."[10] If ever anythingdeters, prevents, or delays any one of us from performing this task, what adisgraceful sin he will commit! Therefore, omit no watchfulness, diligence,care, and effort, in order to "guard the deposit" of Christ's teachingwhose destruction has been planned, as you know, by a great conspiracy.

12. Do not admit anyone to the clergy, entrust to no one the ministry ofthe mysteries of God, allow no one to hear confessions or preach sermons,do not transfer any administration or office to anyone, before youcarefully weigh, examine and "test their spirit to see if they are of God."

13. Would that We had not learned by experience how many "false apostles"the present age has spawned! These are "deceitful workmen who transformthemselves into apostles of Christ." Unless we are on our guard "they willdestroy the understanding of the faithful as the serpent seduced Eve by hiscleverness, and they will fall away from their simplicity which is inChrist."[11] While you must care for the whole flock over which the HolySpirit has placed you as bishop, the watchfulness, eagerness, and effort ofyour fatherly love and benevolence is demanded in particular by boys andyoung men. Christ by example and statement has particularly entrusted theseto us[12] and the enemies of private property and states who are strivingto confound all laws, divine and human, hope to effect their wicked planschiefly by corrupting their young minds. For they are aware that the youngare like soft wax and can easily be drawn in any direction, bent andmoulded and that they firmly retain a form once they have received it andit has been hardened by advancing years; then they will reject a differentform. Hence the well-worn proverb from scripture: "A young man will notdepart from his way even when he has grown old.''[13]

14. Do not allow "that the children of this world be wiser in theirgeneration than the children of light." Carefully investigate the directorsgiven charge of boys and young men in seminaries and colleges, and thecourses they are to follow, the teachers chosen for secondary schools, andthe schools which are to be run. Keep out the ravening wolves who do notspare the flock of innocent lambs, and expel them if necessary by the waythey entered. Eliminate them at once "according to the power which the Lordgave you for edification.''[14] We must use to the full this power toeradicate this very serious threat to our children. This course is requiredfor the safety of Church, state, leaders, and all human beings; theirsafety should be dearer and more important to Us than Our own life. ClementXIII treated this subject in his Brief to you on 25th November 1766.

15. Books which openly oppose the teaching of Christ are to be burned. Evenmore importantly, the eyes and minds of all must be kept from books, whichdo so more stealthily and deceitfully. To recognize such books, as St.Cyprian says in On the Unity of the Church, "there is not need of a longtreatise and arguments: The sum of truth is a proof easy for faith: theLord says to Peter, 'feed my sheep.'" So the sheep of Christ shouldconsider safe and eat cheerfully the food to which Peter's voice andauthority directs them; but despite any beauty and charm, they should shunas harmful and plague-ridden, what this voice forbids them. Those who donot comply are certainly not to be counted among the sheep of Christ.16. In this case We cannot overlook, keep silent or act sluggishly. Forunless this great license of thinking, speaking, writing, and reading isrepressed, it will appear that the strategy and armies of wise kings andgenerals have relieved us for but a short time from this evil which hascrushed us for so long. But so long as its stock and seed is not removedand destroyed (I shudder to say it but it must be said), it will spreadabroad and be strengthened to reach over the whole world. To destroy itlater or to rout it, legions, guards, watches, the armories of cities, andthe defenses of empires will not be enough.

17. Is any one of Us not aroused by the words God speaks to Us through theprophet Ezechiel: "Son of man, I have given you as a guide to the house ofIsrael: and you shall hear a word from my mouth, and you shall proclaim tothem from me. If when I say to the wicked, you shall die the death, you donot proclaim it to him....the wicked man shall die in his iniquity but Ishall look for his blood from your hand.''[15] I confess this statementstartles me and prevents me from being slothful and fearful in executingthe demands of my office. I promise and swear that I will always be notonly your helper and supporter, but your chief and leader.

18. Still another deposit which We must firmly protect is that of theChurch's holy laws by which it establishes its own practice, and over whichit alone has power. Under these laws, virtue and piety thrive; the spouseof Christ terrifies her enemies as an army set in battle array. Many ofthese laws are like foundations laid down to bear the weight of the faith,as Our predecessor St. Zosimus says.[16] There is no greater benefit orboast for kings and political leaders, as another wise and bravepredecessor, St. Felix, wrote to Emperor Zeno, than "to allow the CatholicChurch to enjoy its own laws and not to let anyone interfere with itsliberty....For it is certain that it is beneficial for their own affairs,as God has laid down, for kings to submit their will to the priests ofChrist when God's business is in question, rather than imposing it."

19. Regarding the Church's property, wealth which has been vowed, holymoney, the substance of the saints—the business of God, as Fathers,councils and scripture state—shall We give you any instructions about thisnow that the Church has been wretchedly stripped of them? Only this: todevote your efforts so that everyone will realize the truth of the shortstatement of the synod of Aachen long ago. "Whoever takes away or intendsto take away what other faithful have given from the heritage of theirpossessions for the care of their souls, the honor of God, the beauty ofHis Church and the use of its ministers, assuredly turns the gifts ofothers into danger for his own soul."[17] "Not from an eagerness to holdwhat we have or for the sake of worldly benefit, but from reflection on thedivine judgment, are we moved to reiterate the command to be faithful andwise stewards."[18] (Indeed, We can rightly affirm this to all, no lessstrongly than Our predecessor St. Agapitus.) Christian kings and princeswho rightly hold and boast that they are "guardians"[19] of the Church asIsaiah said, will withdraw from no place at Our prayers, exhortations,warnings, or actions. But certainly their faith, piety, justice, wisdom,and religion have given Us great hope that they will ensure immediatelythat God receives His own and that they will not let their ears resoundwith God's complaints. "You have taken my silver and gold and my lovelydesirable things."[20] Constantine the Great and Charlemagne were likethese kings, and their noble generosity and justice were chiefly directedto the Church. The former asserted that he had known many kingdoms whosekings had perished because they had despoiled the Church. Because of thishe commanded and urged his children and their successors at the head of thestate: "We forbid them to the extent of Our power by God and all the meritsof his saints to do such acts or agree with those who desire to do them.But let them be helpers and defenders of the churches and of the service ofGod insofar as they can."[21]

20. I cannot conceal from you at the end of this letter, venerablebrothers, "Since my sorrow is great and the pain of my heart unceasing," myfeelings for my children, the peoples of France, and other peoples stillseething with the same madness. Nothing would be more desirable to me thanto give my life for them if their safety could be achieved by my death. Wedo not deny—rather, We proclaim—that the bitterness of Our grief is muchdiminished by the invincible purpose which several of you have displayed.We remember this daily. Men of all kinds, age, and rank have followed thisexample. They do so, preferring to suffer any insults, dangers, losses, andpenalties, and to face death itself. They consider this nobler than to bedefiled by the stain of an illicit and wicked sacrament thereby committingsin and disobeying the decrees of the Apostolic See. Indeed, the courage ofancient times has been renewed no less than the cruelty.21. But every people is embraced by my fatherly love, thoughts, andconcern. We grieve and suffer greatly if any are separated from the truth,and We desire to assist them. Join us, then, in Our prayers that after thislong-lasting disturbance, "the Church may have peace to be built up as itwalks in the fear of the Lord and in the consolation of the Holy Spirit."May nothing hinder all peoples from becoming one fold with one shepherd.

22. Meanwhile We most willingly impart the Apostolic Blessing to you inyour courage and preparedness, and to the flock you govern.

Given at Venice in the monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore on the 15th of May1800 in the first year of Our pontificate.


1. Lk 22.

3. Mt 16.

4. Mt 7.

5. Adversus haereses, bk. 3 chap. 3.

6. I Cor 1.9-20.

7. Jn 17.

8. Jn 14.

9. Bk. 83, Question.

10. Eph 4.12.

11. II Cor 11.

12. Mt 19, Mk 10, Lk 18.

13. Prv 22.

14. II Cor 13.

15. Ez 3.17-18.

16. Epistle 7.

17. Chap. 37, Harduin, Conc., vol. 4, col. 1423.

18. Epistle 4 to Caesarius, Bishop of Arles.

19. Is 49.23.

20. Jl 3.

21. Ad. Balut., bk. 1, chap. 3.

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