Real power is service – there is no other way in the Church. For the Christian, progress means humbling oneself

Perusing the pages of human history, and comparing ages long past, peoples distant from one another, and the most different cultures, we notice one common denominator: the presence of egoism, power struggles, greed and all the other vices related to pride. It is not surprising, since our first parents, Adam and Eve, fell into the trap of the evil one, thinking that by their disobedience they would become ‘like gods’ (cf Gen 3:5).

On the other hand, when Jesus came to the world, he taught us about the evils of pride, and his whole life was a profound example of humility: he wished to become man, to be born in a stable, to die on the cross… And he showed his disciples the path to follow: ‘Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mt 20: 26-28).

However, the humility of Jesus that we are all called to imitate is often confused with a false modesty which leads to forgetting the greatness of the Christian vocation, leading to a timid attitude of submission towards the enemies of the Church, or even a simulation of attenuating Catholic doctrine and morals so as not to ‘hurt the feelings’ of those who think differently. And as always, there are those who make the most of certain affirmations of the ecclesiastical authorities to project this distorted vision…

Perhaps something like this is what happened to Pope Francis in one of his morning homilies on this topic. Were his words well understood? Or had we better ask what were his intentions by saying them? The Magisterium, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church can help us to answer.

 

Francis

Real power is service. As He did, He who came not to be served but to serve, and His service was the service of the Cross. He humbled Himself unto death, even death on a cross for us, to serve us, to save us. And there is no other way in the Church to move forward. For the Christian, getting ahead, progress, means humbling oneself. If we do not learn this Christian rule, we will never, ever be able to understand Jesus’ true message on power. (Homily in Santa Marta, May 21, 2013)

Teachings of the Magisterium

Table of contents

I – The humility of Jesus is perfectly harmonious with majesty and glory
II – What is true Christian Humility?
III – The courage to serve Christ without compromises is the guarantee of humility and of authentic service to others
IV – Reasons to show holy pride in belonging to the Church


 I – The humility of Jesus is perfectly harmonious with majesty and glory


Saint Thomas Aquinas
– Christ’s humility is the more wondrous as His majesty is the more sublime

Catechism of Trent
– Christ the Lord – nothing can be conceived more humble, and nothing more magnificent

Sacred Scripture
– Jesus declares himself King before Pilate
– On the eve of the Passion, Jesus asks his Father to glorify him
– Humiliation was the path to glory

Benedict XVI
– Before the Crucified Christ every knee should bow
– Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father with every adversary at his feet

Saint John Chrysostom
– Jesus declares himself to be the Master and the light of the world

Catechism of the Catholic Church
– Jesus clearly manifested his exalted condition as Son of God

John Paul II
-…and willed that others recognize it

Saint Augustine
– Christ affirms of himself the lesser; and Peter affirms of Christ the greater

Sacred Scripture
– The Pharisees were indignant at the praise due to Jesus, but he did not reject it
– “If they keep silent, the stones will cry out!”


II – What is true Christian Humility?


Benedict XVI
– We should learn the correct humility from Christ

Saint Teresa of Avila
– To be humble is to walk in truth

John Paul II
– Humility is the awareness of our own smallness in relation to God…
– …it is submission to the power of truth, and condition of greatness

Benedict XVI
– Humility does not mean false modesty

Pius X
– The example of Saint Anselm: humility and magnanimity, strength and gentleness

Pius XI
– Humility is perfectly compatible with self-confidence and not with self-degradation

Saint Thomas Aquinas
– Outward signs and pretense: no more than false humility and grievous pride


III – The courage to serve Christ without compromises is the guarantee of humility and of authentic service to others


Benedict XVI
– Humility is not the way of renunciation but that of courage

John Paul II
– Christians should declare the faith frankly and with courage
– The service of the truth is a priority task for bishops

Pius XI
– The priest’s first loving gift to his neighbors is to serve truth

Pius XII
-The first duty of the Pope is giving witness to the Truth and to confute those who err

Pius X
– Debasing oneself before the enemies of the Church is a culpable pastoral omission

Benedict XV
– The example of Saint Jerome: humility in hearing the Church and intransigence with her enemies


IV – Reasons to show holy pride in belonging to the Church


Leo XIII
– God made the Church a society far more perfect than any other

Benedict XVI
– The joy of belonging to the Church is not triumphalism but humility, being grateful for the gift of the Lord

Pius XII
– Nothing more glorious, nobler of more honorable than to belong to the Catholic Church

Pius X
– It behooves us to cry aloud and make known to all the great truths of the faith

Pius XI
– The Church of Christ: divinely commissioned to lead mankind

John XXIII
– The Catholic Church is Mother and Teacher of all nations

Pius IX
– It is perverse to attempt to suppress the power of the Catholic Church over all nations and peoples, even to the end of the world

Leo XIII
– The source of the evils of society lies chiefly in setting aside the authority of the Church


I – The humility of Jesus is perfectly harmonious with majesty and glory


Saint Thomas Aquinas

  • Christ’s humility is the more wondrous as His majesty is the more sublime

Therefore, although the virtue of humility was not fitting to Christ in His divine nature, it was fitting to Him in His human nature, and His humility was Tendered the more praiseworthy by His divinity. For the dignity of the person contributes to the praise humility deserves; for example, when out of some necessity a great man has to suffer something lowly. But there can be no dignity of man so great as this: that he be God. Hence, the humility of the God-man was praiseworthy in the extreme when He bore those abject things which He was called on to suffer for the salvation of men. For men were by reason of pride lovers of worldly glory. Therefore, to change the spirits of men over from love of worldly glory to love of divine glory He willed to bear death—not just any sort of death, but a death abject in the extreme. For there are some who, although they do not fear death, abhor an abject death. And even to the contempt of such a death did our Lord inspire men by the example of His death. […] Hence, although many examples of humility of other men are discoverable, it was most expeditious to arouse men to humility by the example of the God-man. He clearly could not make a mistake, and His humility is the more wondrous as His majesty is the more sublime. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa against the Gentiles, Book IV, Ch.55, no. 20-21)

Catechism of Trent

  • Christ the Lord – nothing can be conceived more humble, and nothing more magnificent

Moreover the other Articles of the Creed which regard Christ the Lord show His great humility and lowliness. Nothing can be conceived more humble, nothing more lowly, than that the Son of God assumed our weak human nature, and suffered and died for us. But nothing more magnificently, nothing more admirably, proclaims His sovereign glory and divine majesty than what is contained in the present and in the preceding Article, in which we declare that He rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father. (Catechism of Trent, 1060)

Sacred Scripture

  • Jesus declares himself King before Pilate

So Pilate said to him, ‘Then you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ (Jn 18:37)

  • On the eve of the Passion, Jesus asks his Father to glorify him

When Jesus had said this, he raised his eyes to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you, just as you gave him authority over all people, so that he may give eternal life to all you gave him. Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ. I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do. Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began.’ (Jn 17:1-5)

  • Humiliation was the path to glory

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:5-11)

Benedict XVI

  • Before the Crucified Christ every knee should bow

Saint Paul follows this through. Christ came down from Heaven to the Cross, the ultimate obedience. And at this moment what the Prophet said is brought about: before the Crucified Christ every knee should bow: the entire cosmos, in Heaven, on earth and under the earth (cf. Phil 2:10-11). He is really the expression of the true grandeur of God. The humility of God and his love unto the Cross show us that he is God. Let us kneel before him in adoration. (Benedict XVI. Address to the parish priests of Rome, March 10, 2011)

  • Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father with every adversary at his feet

‘The Lord says to my lord ‘Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool’’ (v. 1). […] With regard to the Messiah Jesus himself mentioned this verse in order to show that the Messiah, was greater than David, that he was David’s Lord (cf. Mt 22:41-45; Mk 12:35-37; Lk 20:41-44). And Peter returned to it in his discourse at Pentecost, proclaiming that this enthronement of the king was brought about in the resurrection of Christ and that Christ was henceforth seated at the right hand of the Father, sharing in God’s kingship over the world (cf. Acts 2:29-35). Indeed, Christ is the enthroned Lord, the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God and coming on the clouds of heaven, as Jesus described himself during the trial before the Synedrion (cf. Mt 26:63-64; Mk 14:61-62; cf. also Lk 22:66-69). He is the true King who, with the Resurrection, entered into glory at the right hand of the Father (Rom 8:34; Edh 2:5; Col 3:1; Hob 8:1; 12:2), was made superior to angels, and seated in heaven above every power with every adversary at his feet, until the time when the last enemy, death, to be defeated by him once and for all (cf. 1 Cur 15:24-26; Edh 1:20-23; Hob 1:3-4; 2:5-8; 10:12-13; 1 Pet 3:22)’. (Benedict XVI. General Audience, November 16, 2011)

Saint John Chrysostom

  • Jesus declares himself to be the Master and the light of the world

What then did Christ? Since they were continually dwelling upon Galilee and ‘The Prophet,’ to free all men from this erroneous suspicion, and to show that He was not one of the prophets, but the Master of the world, He said, ‘I am the light of the world(Jn 8:12).’ Not of Galilee, not of Palestine, nor of Judaea. What then say the Jews? (Jn 8:12) ‘Thou bearest record of thyself, thy record is not true.’ Alas! for their folly, […] What was the record He bare? ‘I am the light of the world.’ A great thing to say, great of a truth. (Saint John Chrysostom. Homilies on the Gospel of Saint John, Homily LII)

Catechism of the Catholic Church

  • Jesus clearly manifested his exalted condition as Son of God…

Peter could recognize the transcendent character of the Messiah’s divine sonship because Jesus had clearly allowed it to be so understood. To his accusers’ question before the Sanhedrin, ‘Are you the Son of God, then?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am’ (Lk 22:70; cf. Mt 26:64; Mk 14:61-62). Well before this, Jesus referred to himself as ‘the Son’ who knows the Father, as distinct from the ‘servants’ God had earlier sent to his people; he is superior even to the angels (cf. Mt 11:27; 21:34-38; 24:36). He distinguished his sonship from that of his disciples by never saying ‘our Father’, except to command them: ‘You, then, pray like this: ‘Our Father’’, and he emphasized this distinction, saying ‘my Father and your Father’ (Mt 5:48; 6:8-9; 7:21; Lk 11:13; Jn 20:17). (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 443)

John Paul II

  • …and willed that others recognize it

Jesus Christ often spoke of himself, using the title ‘the Son of Man’ (cf. Mt 16: 28; Mk 2:28). This title […] corresponded to that ‘pedagogy of faith’, to which Jesus voluntarily had recourse. In effect, he desired that his disciples and those who heard him would reach the discovery of their own accord that the ‘Son of Man’ was at the same time the true ‘Son of God’. We have a very significant demonstration of this in the profession of Saint Peter, made in a place close to Caesarea Philippi. […] Jesus provoked the Apostles with questions, and when Peter attains the explicit recognition of his divine identity, [Jesus] confirms his testimony, calling him ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father’ (Mt 16:17). (John Paul II. General Audience no. 2, August 26, 1987)

Saint Augustine

  • Christ affirms of himself the lesser; and Peter affirms of Christ the greater

This is the confession true and full. You should unite one thing to the other: What Christ says of himself, and what Peter says of Christ. What did Christ say of himself? ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And what did Peter say of Christ? ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Unite both things and so Christ has come in the flesh. Christ affirms of himself the lesser, and Peter, of Christ, the greater. Humility speaks of the truth, and the truth, of humility; that is to say, humility [speaks] of the truth of God, and the truth, of the humility of the man. (Saint Augustine. Sermon 183, no. 3-4)

Sacred Scripture

  • The Pharisees were indignant at the praise due to Jesus, but He did not reject it

When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wondrous things he was doing, and the children crying out in the temple area, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant and said to him, ‘Do you hear what they are saying?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; and have you never read the text, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nurslings you have brought forth praise’’? (Mt 21:15-16)

  • “If they keep silent, the stones will cry out!”

And now as he was approaching the slope of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen. They proclaimed: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.’ Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He said in reply, ‘I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!’ (Lk 19:37-40)


II – What is true Christian humility?


Benedict XVI

  • We should learn the correct humility from Christ

Of course there exist caricatures of a misguided humility and a mistaken submissiveness, which we do not want to imitate. But there also exists a destructive pride and a presumption which tear every community apart and result in violence. Can we learn from Christ the correct humility which corresponds to the truth of our being, and the obedience which submits to truth, to the will of God? (Benedict XVI. Homily, Chrism Mass, April 9, 2009)

Saint Teresa of Avila

  • To be humble is to walk in truth

I was wondering once why Our Lord so dearly loved this virtue of humility; and all of a sudden — without, I believe, my having previously thought of it — the following reason came into my mind: that it is because God is Sovereign Truth and to be humble is to walk in truth, for it is absolutely true to say that we have no good thing in ourselves, but only misery and nothingness; and anyone who fails to understand this is walking in falsehood. He who best understands it is most pleasing to Sovereign Truth because he is walking in truth. (Saint Teresa of Avila. Interior Castle, sixth mansions, Ch. 10)

John Paul II

  • Humility is the awareness of our own smallness in relation to God…

The fundamental attitude of man toward God is, therefore, humility, which is to say, the limpid and joyful self-awareness of our own smallness, of our own limits, of our own contingency, of the condition of creature in relation to the Eternal, to the Omniscient. (John Paul II. Address to professors and students of the University of Perusa, No. 2, October 26, 1986)

  • …it is submission to the power of truth, and condition of greatness

Humility is creative ‘ and love. Humility is rejection of appearances and superficiality; it is the expression of the depth of the human spirit; it is the condition of its greatness. (John Paul II. Angelus, March 4, 1979)

Benedict XVI

  • Humility does not mean false modesty

‘I have served the Lord with all humility’. […] Humility does not mean false modesty — we are grateful for the gifts the Lord has given us — yet it indicates our awareness that anything we can do is a gift of God, it is given for the Kingdom of God. We work with this ‘humility’, with this desire not to be noticed. We do seek praise, we do not want to attract attention, it does not matter to us what may be said of us in the newspapers or elsewhere; what matters is what God says. This is true humility, not to appear before men and women but to be in God’s presence, to work humbly for God and thus really to serve humanity and men and women. (Benedict XVI. Meeting With the Parish Priests of the Diocese of Rome, Lectio Divina, March 10, 2011)

Pius X

  • The example of Saint Anselm: humility and magnanimity, strength and gentleness

And yet Anselm in his own eyes was but a despicable and unknown good for-nothing, a man of no parts, sinful in his life. Nor did this great modesty and most sincere humility detract in the least from his high thinking, whatever may be said to the contrary by men of depraved life and judgment, of whom the Scripture says that ‘the animal man understandeth not the things of the spirit of God’ (1Cor 2:14). Thus in him there existed a wonderful harmony between qualities which the world falsely judges to be irreconcilable and contradictory: simplicity and greatness, humility and magnanimity, strength and gentleness, knowledge and piety, so that both in the beginning and throughout the whole course of his religious life ‘he was singularly esteemed by all as a model of sanctity and doctrine’ (Breviar. Rom., die 21 Aprilis). (Pius X. Encyclical Communium Rerum, no. 7-8, April 21, 1909)

Pius XI

  • Humility is perfectly compatible with self-confidence and not with self-degradation

Humility in the spirit of the Gospel and prayer for the assistance of grace are perfectly compatible with self-confidence and heroism. The Church of Christ, which throughout the ages and to the present day numbers more confessors and voluntary martyrs than any other moral collectivity, needs lessons from no one in heroism of feeling and action. The odious pride of reformers only covers itself with ridicule when it rails at Christian humility as though it were but a cowardly pose of self-degradation. (Pius XI. Encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge, no. 27, March 14, 1937)

Saint Thomas Aquinas

  • Outward signs and pretense: no more than false humility and grievous pride

Humility, in so far as it is a virtue, conveys the notion of a praiseworthy self-abasement to the lowest place. Now this is sometimes done merely as to outward signs and pretense: wherefore this is ‘false humility,’ of which Augustine says in a letter (Ep. 149) that it is ‘grievous pride,’ since to wit, it would seem to aim at excellence of glory. Sometimes, however, this is done by an inward movement of the soul, and in this way, properly speaking, humility is reckoned a virtue, because virtue does not consist externals, but chiefly in the inward choice of the mind, as the Philosopher states (Ethic. ii, 5). (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Suma Theologica, II-II, q. 161, a. 1, ad 2)


III – The courage to serve Christ without compromises is the guarantee of humility and of authentic service to others


Benedict XVI

  • Humility is not the way of renunciation but that of courage

Dear young people, I seem to perceive in these words of God about humility an important message which is especially current for you who want to follow Christ and belong to his Church. This is the message: do not follow the way of pride but rather that of humility. Go against the tide. […] Those who seem more distant from the mindset and values of the Gospel, are crying out to see someone who dares to live according to the fullness of humanity revealed by Jesus Christ. Therefore, dear friends, the way of humility is not the way of renunciation but that of courage. It is not the result of a defeat but the result of a victory of love over selfishness and of grace over sin. In following Christ and imitating Mary, we must have the courage of humility; we must entrust ourselves humbly to the Lord, because only in this way will we be able to become docile instruments in his hands and allow him to do great things in us. […] As you see, dear young people, the humility the Lord has taught us and to which the Saints have borne witness, each according to the originality of his or her own vocation, is quite different from a renunciatory way of life. It is true, the challenges you must face are many and important. The first however, is always that of following Christ to the very end without reservations and compromises. (Benedict XVI. Homily in the pastoral visit to Loreto, on the occasion of the Agorà of Italian Youth, September 2, 2007)

John Paul II

  • Christians should declare the faith frankly and with courage

Proclamation is inspired by faith, which gives rise to enthusiasm and fervor in the missionary. As already mentioned, the Acts of the Apostles uses the word parrhesia to describe this attitude, a word which means to speak frankly and with courage. This term is found also in Saint Paul:We had courage in our God to declare to you the Gospel of God in the face of great opposition’ (1Thess 2:2); ‘Pray…also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains; that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak’ (Eph 6:18-20). (John Paul II. Encyclical Redemptoris Missio, no. 45, December 7, 1990)

  • The service of the truth is a priority task for bishops

Today, faced with self-sufficient humanism which frequently disdains God; faced with those who forget the condition as pilgrims of man on earth; faced with doctrines and personal and social conducts which are incompatible with the morals of the Gospel, it is necessary that the faithful encounter in their Pastors, first of all, the light of faith and of teaching, which they have the right to receive in abundance and in all its purity (Lumen Gentium no. 37). […] To be able to face the challenges of the present, it is necessary that the Church appear, at all levels, as the ‘the pillar and foundation of truth’ (1Tim 3:15). The service of the Truth, which is Christ, is our priority task. This Truth is revealed. It is not born of a merely human experience. It is God Himself, who in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, makes himself known to man. […] Our firmness will come from this solid foundation, since the Church today, despite all the difficulties that encircle it, cannot speak in a way different from that which Christ spoke. For this reason, the Church, especially the Pastors, should be united around the Absolute Truth, that is God, and proclaim it in all its integrity and purity. (John Paul II. Address to the second group of bishops from Chile in the ad limina visit, no. 2, November 8, 1984)

Pius XI

  • The priest’s first loving gift to his neighbors is to serve truth

This charity, intelligent and sympathetic towards those even who offend you, does by no means imply a renunciation of the right of proclaiming, vindicating and defending the truth and its implications. The priest’s first loving gift to his neighbors is to serve truth and refute error in any of its forms. Failure on this score would be not only a betrayal of God and your vocation, but also an offense against the real welfare of your people and country. (Pius XI. Encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge, no. 44, March 14, 1937)

Pius XII

  • The first duty of the Pope is giving witness to the Truth, and to confute those who err

As Vicar of Him who in a decisive hour pronounced before the highest earthly authority of that day, the great words: ‘For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth. Every one that is of the truth, hearest My voice’ (Jn 18: 37), We feel We owe no greater debt to Our office and to Our time than to testify to the truth with Apostolic firmness: ‘to give testimony to the truth.’ This duty necessarily entails the exposition and confutation of errors and human faults; for these must be made known before it is possible to tend and to heal them. ‘You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free’ (Jn 8:32). (Pius XII. Encyclical Summi Pontificatus, no. 19, October 20, 1939)

Pius X

  • Debasing oneself before the enemies of the Church is a culpable pastoral omission

It is for you, therefore, venerable brethren, whom Divine Providence has constituted to be the pastors and leaders of the Christian people, to resist with all your strength this most fatal tendency of modern society to lull itself in a shameful indolence while war is being waged against religion, seeking a cowardly neutrality made up of weak schemes and compromises to the injury of divine and human rights, to the oblivion of Christ’s clear sentence: ‘He that is not with me is against me’ (Mt 12:30). Not indeed that it is not well at times to waive our rights as far as may lawfully be done and as the good of souls requires. And certainly this defect can never be charged to you who are spurred on by the charity of Christ. But this is only a reasonable condescension, which can be made without the slightest detriment to duty, and which does not at all affect the eternal principles of truth and justice. (Pius X. Encyclical Communium rerum, no. 31, April 21, 1909)

Benedict XV      

  • The example of Saint Jerome: humility in hearing the Church and intransigence with her enemies

With his strong insistence on adhering to the integrity of the faith, it is not to be wondered at that he attacked vehemently those who left the Church; he promptly regarded them as his own personal enemies. ‘To put it briefly,’ he says, ‘I have never spared heretics, and have always striven to regard the Church’s enemies as my own (Dial. contra Pelagianos, Prol. 2). To Rufinus he writes: ‘There is one point in which I cannot agree with you: you ask me to spare heretics – or, in other words – not to prove myself a Catholic’ (Contra Ruf., 3, 43). Yet at the same time Jerome deplored the lamentable state of heretics, and adjured them to return to their sorrowing Mother, the one source of salvation (In Mich., 1:10-15), he prayed, too, with all earnestness for the conversion of those ‘who had quitted the Church and put away the Holy Spirit’s teaching to follow their own notions’(In Is., 16:1-5). Was there ever a time, Venerable Brethren, when there was greater call than now for us all, lay and cleric alike, to imbibe the spirit of this ‘Greatest of Doctors’? For there are many contumacious folk now who sneer at the authority and government of God, Who has revealed Himself, and of the Church which teaches. […] Would that all Catholics would cling to Saint Jerome’s golden rule and obediently listen to their Mother’s words, so as modestly to keep within the bounds marked out by the Fathers and ratified by the Church. (Benedict XV. Encyclical Spiritus Paraclitus , no. 38-39, September 15, 1920)


IV – Reasons to show holy pride in belonging to the Church


Leo XIII

  • God made the Church as a perfect society

God indeed even made the Church a society far more perfect than any other. For the end for which the Church exists is as much higher than the end of other societies as divine grace is above nature, as immortal blessings are above the transitory things on the earth. Therefore the Church is a society divine in its origin, supernatural in its end and in means proximately adapted to the attainment of that end; but it is a human community inasmuch as it is composed of men. For this reason we find it called in Holy Writ by names indicating a perfect society. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Statis Cognitum, no. 10, June 29, 1896)

Benedict XVI

  • The joy of belonging to the Church is not triumphalism but humility, being grateful for the gift of the Lord

The Church is not an organization that was formed gradually; the Church was born from the Cross. The Son acquired the Church on the Cross and not only the Church of that moment, but the Church of all the epochs. He acquired with his Blood this portion of the people, of the world, for God. And this, it seems to me, should make us think. Christ, God, created the Church, the new Eve, with his Blood. Thus he loves us and loved us and this is true at every moment. And this must also enable us to understand that the Church is a gift; being happy that we are called to the Church of God; feeling joy in belonging to the Church. Of course, there are also always negative and difficult aspects, but basically this must remain: it is a very beautiful gift that I can live out in the Church of God, in the Church that the Lord purchased with his Blood. Being called to know truly the face of God, to know his will, to know his Grace, to know this supreme love, this Grace that guides us and takes us by the hand. Happiness in being Church, joy in being Church. I think we must relearn this. The fear of triumphalism has perhaps caused us to forget a little that it is beautiful to be in the Church and that this is not triumphalism but humility, being grateful for the gift of the Lord. (Benedict XVI. Meeting With the Parish Priests of the Diocese of Rome, March 10, 2011)

Pius XII

  • Nothing more glorious, nobler of more honorable than to belong to the Catholic Church

Venerable Brethren, in Our exposition of this mystery which embraces the hidden union of us all with Christ, We have thus far, as Teacher of the Universal Church, illumined the mind with the light of truth, and Our pastoral office now requires that We provide an incentive for the heart to love this Mystical Body with that ardor of charity which is not confined to thoughts and words, but which issues in deeds. If those who lived under the Old Law could sing of their earthly city: ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten; let my tongue cleave to my jaws if I do not remember thee, if I make not Jerusalem the beginning of my joy’( Ps 136:5-6). How much greater then should be the joy and exultation that should fill our hearts who dwell in a City built on the holy mountain of living and chosen stones, ‘Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone’(Eph 2:20; 1Pet 2:4-5). For nothing more glorious, nothing nobler, nothing surely more honorable can be imagined than to belong to the One, Holy Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church, in which we become members of One Body as venerable as it is unique; are guided by one supreme Head; are filled with one divine Spirit; are nourished during our earthly exile by one doctrine and one heavenly Bread, until at last we enter into the one, unending blessedness of heaven. (Pius XII. Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, no. 91, June 29, 1943)

Pius X

  • It behooves us to cry aloud and make known to all the great truths of the faith

In the midst of these public calamities it behooves us to cry aloud and make known the great truths of the faith not only to the people, to the humble, the afflicted, but to the powerful and the rich, to them that decide and govern the policy of nations, to make known to all the great truths which history confirms by its great and disastrous lessons such as that ‘sin makes the nations miserable’ (Prov 14:34), ‘that a most severe judgment shall be for them that bear rule’ (Sap 4:7), with the admonition of Psalm 2: ‘And now, ye kings, understand; receive instruction, you that judge the earth. Serve the Lord with fear . . . embrace discipline lest at any time the Lord be angry, and you perish from the just way’. (Pius X. Encyclical Communium rerum, no. 24, April 21, 1909)

Pius XI

  • The Church of Christ: divinely commissioned to lead mankind

There exists an institution able to safeguard the sanctity of the law of nations. This institution is a part of every nation; at the same time it is above all nations. She enjoys, too, the highest authority, the fullness of the teaching power of the Apostles. Such an institution is the Church of Christ. She alone is adapted to do this great work, for she is not only divinely commissioned to lead mankind, but moreover, because of her very make-up and the constitution which she possesses, by reason of her age-old traditions and her great prestige, which has not been lessened but has been greatly increased since the close of the War, cannot but succeed in such a venture where others assuredly will fail. (Pius XI. Encyclical Ubi Arcano, no. 46, December 23, 1922)

John XXIII

  • The Catholic Church is Mother and Teacher of all nations

Mother and Teacher of all nations—such is the Catholic Church in the mind of her Founder, Jesus Christ; to hold the world in an embrace of love, that men, in every age, should find in her their own completeness in a higher order of living, and their ultimate salvation. She is ‘the pillar and ground of the truth’ (1Tim 3:15) To her was entrusted by her holy Founder the twofold task of giving life to her children and of teaching them and guiding them—both as individuals and as nations—with maternal care. Great is their dignity, a dignity which she has always guarded most zealously and held in the highest esteem. (John XXIII. Encyclical Mater et Magistra, no. 1, May 15, 1961)

Pius IX

  • It is perverse to attempt to suppress the power of the Catholic Church over all nations and peoples, even to the end of the world

According to the duty of Our Apostolic Ministry, and following the illustrious example of Our Predecessors, We raised Our voice, and in many published Encyclical Letters and Allocutions delivered in Consistory, and other Apostolic Letters, we condemned the chief errors of this most unhappy age, and we excited your admirable episcopal vigilance, and we again and again admonished and exhorted all sons of the Catholic Church, to us most dear, that they should altogether abhor and flee from the contagion of so dire a pestilence. […] But, although we have not omitted often to proscribe and reprobate the chief errors of this kind, yet the cause of the Catholic Church, and the salvation of souls entrusted to us by God, and the welfare of human society itself, altogether demand that we again stir up your pastoral solicitude to exterminate other evil opinions, which spring forth from the said errors as from a fountain. Which false and perverse opinions are on that ground the more to be detested, because they chiefly tend to this, that that salutary influence be impeded and (even) removed, which the Catholic Church, according to the institution and command of her Divine Author, should freely exercise even to the end of the world — not only over private individuals, but over nations, peoples, and their sovereign princes. (Pius IX. Encyclical Cuanta Cura, No. 2-3, December 8, 1846)

Leo XIII

  • The source of the evils of society lies chiefly in setting aside the authority of the Church

For, from the very beginning of Our pontificate, the sad sight has presented itself to Us of the evils by which the human race is oppressed on every side. […] Now, the source of these evils lies chiefly, We are convinced, in this, that the holy and venerable authority of the Church, which in God’s name rules mankind, upholding and defending all lawful authority, has been despised and set aside. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Inscrutabili Dei consilio, n. 2-3, Abril 21, 1878)


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The self-denominated ‘Archbishop of Uppsala, dear sister’: How far will ecumenical dialogue go?