On the Promotion of Oriental Studies

Author: Pope Pius XI

RERUM ORIENTALIUM (On the Promotion of Oriental Studies)

Pope Pius XI

Encyclical promulgated on 8 September 1928

To Our Venerable Brethren the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops,and other Local Ordinaries in Peace and Communion with the Apostolic See.

Health and Apostolic Benediction.

1. In order to promote the study of Oriental sciences and a more thoroughknowledge of them among the faithful, and still more among priests, ourPredecessors, during the past centuries, have applied themselves with anardor of which no one can be ignorant who has even rapidly glanced at theannals of the Catholic Church. They well knew that the cause of many evilsin the past, and especially of the deplorable dissension which hasdetached from the root of unity many churches once so flourishing, hasresulted principally and almost fatally from mutual ignorance andcontempt, and from the prejudices which followed on a long division amongsouls. They knew also that no remedy can be supplied until thoseimpediments are removed. Hence, to touch but briefly on a few of thehistorical documents which, beginning from the time when the bonds ofunity began to be relaxed, bear witness to the care and solicitude of theRoman Pontiffs in this respect, every one knows with what benevolence andveneration Adrian I received the two apostles of the Slavs, Cyril andMethodius, and how singularly he honored them; with what diligence hesupported the Eighth Ecumenical Council, the fourth of Constantinople, towhich he sent his legates, shortly after such a great portion of the flockof the Lord had been lamentably snatched away from the Roman Pontiff, thedivinely-constituted Shepherd. Such sacred assemblies, convoked for thepurpose of discussing Oriental affairs, were held one after another, aswhen at Bari, at the grave of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, Anselm, Doctorof Aosta and Archbishop of Canterbury, moved the minds and hearts of allby his learning and the wonderful sanctity of his life; or again as atLyons, to which those two luminaries of the Church, the angelic Doctor St.Thomas, and the seraphic St. Bonaventure, were summoned by Gregory X, andhow the one died on the journey and the other in the midst of the greatlabors of the Council; or as at Ferrara and Florence, when the palm mustcertainly be awarded to those ornaments of the Christian East, soon tobecome Cardinals of the Roman Church, Bessarion of Nice, and Isidore ofKieff; and when the truth of Catholic dogma, logically and methodicallystated, and made to shine forth anew by the charity of Christ, seemed topave the way for the reconciliation of Oriental Christians with theSupreme Pastor.

2. The few facts We have cited manifest the paternal affection anddevotion of the Apostolic See towards Oriental nations, but, because moreremarkable they also occur more rarely. Innumerable other acts concerningthe Orient, Venerable Brethren, bear testimony to the benefits which theRoman Church wished to confer on the East. It was to this end especiallythat she sent her religious to spend their lives in the service ofOriental nations. Sustained by the authority of the Apostolic See, theseheroic men, recruited chiefly from the religious families of St. Francisof Assisi and St. Dominic, went forth to found houses and to create newprovinces of their Order, not only in Palestine and Armenia, where theycultivated anew with great effort theology and other sciences thatcontributed to the profane and the religious civilization not only ofthose countries but also of other regions, but in other countries alsowhere the Orientals subjected to the domination of the Turk or of theTartar, and forcibly separated from Roman Unity, were deprived of accessto every form of education, especially religious education.

3. These remarkable benefits and aims of the Apostolic See seemed to carryweight with the doctors of the University of Paris who, since thethirteenth century, following the wishes and aspirations of the Holy See,founded, as history teaches us, and incorporated with their University, anOriental college, with which our predecessor John XX, a few years later,kept in touch through Hugo Bishop of Paris.[1] Equally remarkable also, asthe documents of that time testify, were the efforts of Humbert de Romans,a very learned religious and Master General of the Order of Preachers. Inhis book "Of what it befits to treat in the coming Council of Lyons," herecommended point by point what was necessary in order to win the souls ofthe Orientals:[2] a knowledge of the Greek language, because the diversityof nations is joined in the unity of faith by means of various languages;an abundance of Greek books and a sufficient number of translations of theworks of the West into the languages of the East. He also exhorted theFriars Preachers assembled in General Chapter at Milan to hold in highesteem the languages of the East, and to study them earnestly so as to beready to go forth to those nations if it were God's Will.

4. Thus also in the Franciscan family, Roger Bacon, that scholar so dearto Our Predecessor, Clement IV, not only wrote learnedly on the Chaldean,Arab and Greek languages,[3] but also facilitated their study for others.

Following the above examples, Raymond Lulli, a man of singular learningand piety, urged with all the impetuosity of his nature, and obtained fromOur Predecessors, Celestine V and Boniface VIII, favors which at the timewere most unusual: that a Cardinal should be placed at the head ofOriental affairs and studies, and that Apostolic expeditions be sent tothe Tartar, the Saracen, and other infidels, as well as to bring the"schismatics" once more into the unity of the Church.

5. But We specially wish to emphasize how, through the initiative of thesame Raymond Lulli, a decree was formulated in the General Council ofVienne and promulgated by Our Predecessor Clement V, in which We seem tosee foreshadowed Our own Oriental Institute. With the approbation of thissacred Council, We provide for the erection of schools for the study ofthe above-mentioned languages wherever the Roman Curia shall happen toreside, as also in Paris, Oxford, Bologna and Salamanca, and for theappointment of two Catholic professors with sufficient knowledge for eachof the languages—Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, and Chaldaic—who shall directthose schools, and shall translate into Latin books written in the abovelanguages, shall teach them to others, and shall pass on their knowledgethrough instruction; so that the young men by this means may with God'shelp produce the fruits hoped for by propagating the Faith among infidelnations.[4]

6. But since, among Oriental nations, on account of the confusion of thetimes, nearly all the possibilities of scientific study were destroyed andit was impossible to cultivate higher studies among students wellqualified for them, you know, Venerable Brethren, that Our Predecessorsalso were careful that not only in the chief Universities of that agethere should be Oriental centers of learning, but also in a special mannerthat seminaries should be opened in the heart of this mother city of Rome,easily accessible to students of those nations, whence after a carefuleducation they should go forth prepared to fight the good fight. On thataccount monasteries and colleges were opened in Rome for the Greeks andthe Ruthenians, and also houses were given to the Maronites and Armenians.We may see what gain for souls was achieved when we consider theliturgical and other works which the Sacred Congregation of Propagandacaused to be published in various Oriental languages, and the preciousOriental codices which the Vatican library diligently gathered togetherand religiously preserved.

7. Nor is this by any means all. As Our Predecessors realized that a morecomplete knowledge of things Oriental among Occidentals was of greatimportance to foster charity and mutual esteem, they strove with all theirmight to attain this end. Thus Gregory XVI, who, raised to the SupremePontificate in the very year he was about to begin his mission as legateat the court of Alexander I, studied Russian affairs with the greatestdiligence; thus Pius IX, who before and after the Vatican Councilearnestly recommended the publication of works on Oriental rites andtraditions; thus Leo XIII, who showed so great a love and pastoralsolicitude not only for the Copts and the Slavs, but for all theOrientals. Besides the new religious Congregation of the Augustinians ofthe Assumption, he encouraged also other Religious Orders to acquire orincrease their knowledge of Eastern matters. He caused to be erected newcolleges for the Orientals, in the Orient, as well as here in Rome. Hepraised most highly the University of the Society of Jesus at Beirut,which is even today in a most flourishing state and very dear to Us. AgainPius X also, who, having founded the Pontifical Biblical Institute,kindled in the souls of many a new ardor for Oriental studies, and therebyreaped a rich harvest.

8. Our immediate Predecessor, Benedict XV, diligently emulating thispaternal providence towards the Oriental nations, as a sacred inheritanceaccepted by Pius X, constituted a Congregation for the affairs of theOriental Church, and decided to found in this City, the Head ofChristendom, a "special center for higher Oriental studies," endowed with"all the scientific apparatus which modern erudition requires, and staffedwith zealous teachers, thoroughly trained in all branches of studyconcerning the Orient,"[5] and empowered with the faculty of giving "thedegree of Doctor in ecclesiastical sciences related to the Christiannations of the East."[6] This Institute was open not only to the Orientals(among whom are included those also who are separated from CatholicUnity), but also to the Latin priests who wished to become proficient inthese branches, or who wished to minister to the Orientals. The greatestpraise is to be given to these men, who worked diligently during a periodof four years to initiate the first students of the Institute in Orientalsciences.

9. There was, however, this difficulty to a fitting development of theInstitute, that, though near the Vatican, it was far from the center ofthe city. Therefore We, wishing to carry into effect what Benedict XV hadin mind, had decreed, at the beginning of Our Pontificate, the transfer ofthe Oriental Institute to the Pontifical Biblical Institute, as beingclosely related to it in studies and purposes, the Institutes remainingdistinct from one another. We intended to give the Oriental Institute anabode of its own as soon as possible. Moreover, with the intention ofthere never being a lack of men fitted to teach Oriental subjects, andthinking that We should reach this end more easily by confiding soimportant a charge to one religious family, by Our Letter of September 14,1922,[7] We commanded the General of the Society of Jesus that, by hislove towards the Holy See and his Vicar, and the obedience he owed to him,he should, in spite of all difficulties, under take the entireadministration of the Institute, observing the following conditions: thatthe supreme direction of the Institute being reserved to Us and to Oursuccessors, the General of the Society of Jesus should find men capable offilling the difficult offices of President and lecturers of the Institute;that henceforth, either directly or through the President, he shouldpropose for Our approval and that of Our successors those whom heconsidered competent to lecture on the various subjects of the Institute;and that he should suggest all that might seem to conduce to the securityand prosperity of the Institute.

10. Now, at the close of the sixth year since We, with the specialguidance of God, made this decision, We may thank God most gratefully thatan abundant harvest has resulted from Our labors. Although the number ofstudents-as the nature of the Institute itself requires-has not been, norever will be, very great, still it has been sufficient to enable Us torejoice when We realize that already an important group of men, rapidlyincreasing in numbers, will soon leave the shelter of this abode oflearning, so formed in piety and learning that we have every hope thatthey may, in the field which lies open before them, be of great assistanceto the Oriental Churches.

11. And now, while praising with all Our hearts the local Ordinaries andHeads of Religious Orders, who, making Our wishes their own, have sent toRome, from divers nations and countries, their priests to be formed inOriental sciences, We at the same time exhort all Religious Heads ofgroups scattered far and wide upon the earth, that, following such anexample, they neglect not to send to this Our Oriental Institute thosestudents whom they may consider suitable and who may feel an attractionfor such studies. Let us recall to your memories, Venerable Brethren, whatwe recently declared in Our Encyclical Mortalium animos. Who is therewho does not know how often a kind of unity among Christians, completelyforeign to the mind of Christ the Founder of the Church, is contemplated;and who has not heard of those most important discussions, carried onespecially in the greater part of Europe and of America on the mostimportant subject of the Orientals, whether united to the Roman Church orseparated from her? But, though the students from Our seminaries, havingacquired, as they should, a knowledge of Protestant errors and fallaciesof later date, are able to recognize and promptly to refute them, they arenot, however, trained, at least generally speaking, in that particularbranch of learning which would enable them to pass a sure judgment onmatters pertaining to Oriental sciences and customs, and to the liturgywhich is to be preserved with all reverence within the Catholic unity. Forthis a very special and accurate study is required.

12. Therefore, since We cannot in any way neglect all that could help tobring about that most desirable reunion of such a remarkable portion ofthe flock of Jesus Christ to His true Church, or to show the greatestcharity towards those who, in their different rites, closely adhere withtheir minds and their hearts to the Roman Church and the Vicar of Christ,we earnestly exhort you, Venerable Brethren, that each one choose amonghis priests at least one who, being well trained in these branches oflearning, shall be able to instruct seminarists in them when opportunitiesarise. We are not ignorant of the fact that it belongs in a peculiarmanner to Catholic Universities to institute a special faculty of Orientalsciences. With Our initiative and Our help, We are glad that this work hasalready begun in Paris, Louvain, Lille. Of late, also, in several otherseats of theological learning, chairs of Oriental sciences have beenfounded at the expense of the civil government, with the consent of and bythe encouragement of the local Ordinaries. Nevertheless, it ought not tobe too difficult to find a Professor in each of the theological seminarieswho, together with history, liturgy, or canon law, will be able to teachthe elements of Oriental sciences. And when the minds and hearts of thestudents shall thus be turned towards Eastern teaching and rites, no smallgain should result. Not only will the Orientals thus derive benefit, butalso the students themselves will have a better knowledge of Catholictheology and Latin discipline, and will conceive a greater love for thetrue Spouse of Christ, whose beauty, on account of the variety of rites,will shine forth the more.

13. Having considered all the advantages to Christianity that would followfrom such training of young men, We have considered it part of Our duty tospare no labors, not only to ensure the life of the Institute which fromthe outset We confirmed, but also to facilitate its success by newdevelopments. Hence, as soon as it was possible to Us, We wished to assignto it an abode of its own, spending for the purchase and establishing ofthe house of St. Anthony, near St. Mary Major on the Esquiline, the fundsbequeathed to Us by the liberality of a benevolent prelate as also thoseoffered Us by a devout citizen of the United States; We hope and pray thattheir reward in Heaven may be exceeding great. Nor should We pass over insilence the fact that funds reached Us from Spain, sufficient to furnishand to endow a larger and more beautiful library. May these examples ofliberality encourage others, for, after an experience of many years asLibrarian of the Ambrosian and the Vatican Library, We realize howimportant it is to furnish this library with all necessary material, sothat not only the Doctors, but also the students, should be enabled toacquire knowledge concerning the Orient from sources often hidden orunknown, but yet extremely rich, and to turn them to public service.Undeterred by difficulties (though We foresee these will be numerous andgreat), We shall strive, as far as in Us lies, to procure all things thatappertain to the countries of the Orient, to their customs, to theirlanguages and to their rites; and We shall be very grateful to any who,through filial love for the Vicar of Christ, shall help Us to attain thisend, whether by giving funds, or books, or codices, or paintings, oranything of the kind relating to the Christian East.

14. And thus We hope that the Oriental nations, seeing with their own eyesthe monuments of the piety, the learning, and the arts of their ancestors,shall be taught how true, eternal orthodoxy was held in honor in the RomanChurch and with what sacredness it is preserved, defended and propagated.May We not hope, that moved by such strong arguments (especially if overthe mutual intercourse between scholars Christian charity shall preside)the greater number of Orientals, striving to regain their ancient glories,and putting aside prejudice, will desire to return to that Christian unitymaintained by a full profession of faith, such as befits the truefollowers of Christ, united in One flock under One Shepherd?

15. While We hope and pray to God that this most happy day may finallydawn upon the Christian world, it will perhaps be useful, VenerableBrethren, to indicate briefly how Our Oriental Institute, uniting with usto carry out Our desires, shall work to attain this end. The Professorsare engaged in two different sorts of studies, of which some arecontained, as it were, within the walls of the Institute, while othershave a wider sphere, by means of the publication of documents relating tothe Christian East, whether unedited, or forgotten in the days in which welive.

16. As to the education of the students, besides the dogmatic theology ofthe dissidents, the explanation of the Oriental Fathers, and of all thatappertains to Oriental studies, whether of history, liturgy, archaeology,or other sacred branches of learning, and the languages of variousnations, we recall with special gratification how We have been enabled toadd to the Byzantine Institutions a chair of Islamic Institutions, a thinghitherto unheard of in Roman centers of learning. By a special favor ofDivine Providence, We have been able to place at the head of thisDepartment a man who, born a Turk, and after many years of study, havingby God's help professed the Catholic religion and been ordained to thepriesthood, seemed capable of teaching those among his compatriots whowere to be destined to the sacred ministry how to present, as well toscholars as to the ignorant, the cause of the One Individual God, and ofthe Gospel law.

17. Nor are the publications of the Oriental Institute for the propagationof the Catholic religion and the achievement of true union amongChristians of less importance. The greater number of these volumes, called Orientalia Christiana, were written during the past few years byProfessors of the Institute; the rest, under its auspices, by otherexperts on Oriental questions. These either deal with both the ancient andmodern conditions of the Eastern nations generally unknown to Westerners,or else cast a new light upon the religious history of the East by meansof documents hitherto unknown; or describe the relations of Orientalmonks, and even Patriarchs, with this Apostolic See, and the solicitude ofthe Roman Pontiffs in defending their rights and property; or compare thetheology of the dissidents regarding the sacraments or even the nature ofthe Church herself with the Catholic Truth; or again make a study ofancient codices. In a word, there is nothing which relates to sacredsciences, or has any connection with Oriental civilization (as forinstance the remains of Greek culture in Southern Italy) which does notappeal to the diligence of these scholars.

18. Who then, considering the great extent of these labors, undertakenchiefly for the benefit of Orientals, does not trust Jesus Christ the mostmerciful Redeemer of men, taking pity upon the sad fate of so many, longastray from the right road, will complete what We have begun, and guideHis flock into the One Fold, ruled over by the One Shepherd? A specialreason for this hope is that among those nations a very great part ofRevelation has been religiously preserved, sincere service is rendered toChrist Our Lord, great piety and love are shown towards His sinlessMother, and devout use made of the Sacraments. Therefore, since God in Hismercy has willed that men, and especially priests, should as Hisinstruments co-operate in the work of Redemption, what is there left toUs, Venerable Brethren, but once more to supplicate, yea to compel you notonly to agree in mind and in heart with Our designs, but also to laborthat the longed-for day may soon dawn, when We shall all welcome back, notonly a few, but the vast majority of the Greeks, of the Slavs, of theRoumanians, and of the Eastern nations, hitherto separated, to theirformer communion with the Roman Church. And as we meditate upon what Wehave already begun to do, and what We hope to bring to perfection, so asto hasten this joyful day, it seems to Us that We may compare Ourselves tothe Father of the family whom Christ Our Lord describes as calling theguests invited to His supper "that they should come, for now all thingsare ready" (Luke xiv, 17). Applying these words to Our own case, Weearnestly entreat you, Venerable Brethren, that you add your efforts toours, for this most important end of promoting Oriental studies. So that,after the removal of all obstacles, under the auspices of the ImmaculateVirgin Mother of God, and of the Holy Fathers and Doctors of East andWest, We may receive into the House of the Father those brethren and sonsof Ours, so long separated from Us, but once more united in bonds of acharity based upon the solid foundation of truth and the full professionof the Christian religion.

And in order that these Our desires and enterprises may be most happilyrealized, as an earnest of heavenly gifts and as a token of Our paternalaffection, We most lovingly impart the apostolic benediction to you,Venerable Brethren, and to all the flock committed to your care.

Given in Rome, at St. Peter's, on the feast of the Nativity of the BlessedVirgin Mary, September 8, 1928, in the seventh year of Our Pontificate.


1. Denifle-Chatelain, Chartul, Univ. Paris, t. II, n. 857.

2. Mansi, t. xxiv, ed. 128.

3. Opus maius, pars tertia.

4. Denifle-Chatelain, Chartul, Univ. Paris, t. ii. n. 695.

5. Benedict XV, Motu proprio Orientis catholici, Oct. 15, 1917. Acta Ap.Sedis IX (1917), n. 11, pp. 531-533.

6. Benedict XV, Litterae Apostolicae Quod Nobis, Sept. 25, 1920 (ActaApost. Sedis XII (1920), n. 11, pp. 440-441.

7. Letter Decessor Noster (Acta Apost. Sed. XIV (1922), n. 15, pp.545-546.

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