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from issue no. 08 - 2007

What remains of primordial and substantial in the Church?

The speech by Pius XI to the Italian bishops convoked by him to the Vatican for the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Lateran Pact. The speech was never given by the Pope who died on 10 February 1939, the eve of the anniversary

The last speech, never given, of Pius XI

Pope Pius Xi

Pope Pius Xi

Venerable brethren,
ten years of conciliation – seventeen and by now eighteen years of pontificate – twenty years of episcopacy – sixty years of priesthood: these are the great voices that, in the candid thaumaturgical splendors of Lourdes, have united in a choir to invite you to console and cheer with your ever dear and desired presence the old Pontiff, the old Pope.
How many things does your sacred presence say, or will shortly say, to the Church and to the faithful throughout the world, how many things it says especially to us, and how many it suggests to us, and invites us to tell you!
Not least because of the harshness of the time, we must choose matters and treat them very soberly and we shall try to do so with the help of God and of your goodness and patience.
Certainly the most important theme, and the one that demands to be treated with the greatest ponderation, is the theme of conciliation, because it is a theme of collective importance, universal (we may well say so), not only for Italy. And we can, indeed we must, in thinking of it, listen to what the Apostle says: et grati estote (Col 3, 15).
And on this great theme we shall dwell tomorrow, after having praised and thanked the Lord in the majesty of the Great Basilica, that smiles on us from so close by.
Now we want to devote brief (have no doubt) but important reflections to these large numbers of priesthood and episcopate. And it is not only our poor count, but even more yours that imposes.
How many are you? How many then the years of full priesthood and of episcopate that you present us? How great and magnificent the hoard, the truly inestimable treasure of divine graces – graces received and communicated to so many souls – treasure of correspondence, of sanctification, of apostolate, of deserts with God and with men?
But to these and to so many other obvious reflections we prefer to recommend you one that seems to us – not least because of the recent lesson, that surviving life is giving us in the Congregation, of which we have reserved the prefecture to ourself – that seems to us, we said, the most practical, and with promise of more ample and precious fruit.
Where is the source of the priesthood and of the episcopate?
In the seminaries.
Of course, above everything and everybody stands and operates the grace of God: grace of election and of vocation, grace of sanctification and of consecration. But all these graces are distributed, cultivated, perfected, consummated in the seminaries. From these, and only (as a rule) from these, the hope and, we dare say, the possibility of good and well-trained priests, and from the priesthood the episcopate. What else remains of primordial and substantial in the Church?
The reflections, that at this point imposed themselves for whoever has a responsibility towards the seminaries, are at once consoling and tremendous; especially for us, whom divine Providence prepared the [sic] responsibilities of so many years of priesthood, of episcopate and of pontificate, with so many years of seminary, as are granted – we see – to few: twelve years in Milan, and then three years here in Rome.
But to answer to the demands of the soaring theme, and profit from the most important teaching of that recent lesson, that we mentioned above, we cannot fail to remember that there are seminaries and seminaries: diocesan seminaries and interdiocesan seminaries, and precisely with a classification of great and greater importance.
Do not think that we want to enter into the countless details, that easily present themselves to the spirit, especially to such vigilant and proven and enlightened spirits as yours. Piety and study, spiritual direction and exterior governance, discipline and hygiene, economy and administration, library and kitchen, the managing and teaching body and the service staff, and every bigger and smaller thing: yes, those, too, because daily life is woven of small things, and the big things are rare; and such is the teaching and the example of the great Father Who is in Heaven, Who governs the worlds, and knows the little bird that dies in the wood and the hair that falls from our head (Mt 6, 26; Lk 21,18).
But let these few and poor words suffice for so many and such important things, because our intention in recalling your consideration to both diocesan and interdiocesan seminaries was solely to beg you, as we do with all our heart, to come always to our aid for their greater good; to aid, by backing the directives and the cares of our – also your – Congregation, wholly devoted to those seminaries, that indeed belong to you; to aid, by considering practically as yours, not only the diocesan seminaries, but also the interdiocesan ones, that in fact are for and work for all the seminaries, that come under them: to aid, even sometimes corde magno et animo volenti by making the sacrifice of someone particularly useful to the diocese, thinking it is for a higher and vaster utility, as well as a real charity to the Pope; to aid, by backing the rigor of rectors in admission and in promotions, thinking that on them lies a special, formidable responsibility, assisted by particular graces and aid...
And we want to conclude here, though with so many other things, that arise and demand to be considered. We want to finish with two personal memories from our early youth, because they seem to us particularly instructive. The first memory goes back to our venerable archbishop who, in the junior seminary, gave us first communion. A man of consummate experience and much prayer, he had as chief rector of the seminaries a man, in many ways remarkable and exemplary, but also quite prickly and authoritarian, and who was also our rector. The archbishop said – he said it to a saintly priest, our paternal uncle and almost a second father: «I always end by having to adopt his judgments for admissions and promotions; only once did I believe I was in the right; shortly after I had to agree that he was right that time also».
The other memory calls to mind the great and luminous figure of Cardinal Agostino Riboldi, one time our teacher of the physical sciences, then zealous Bishop of Pavia, and finally memorable Cardinal Archbishop of Ravenna. They told him one day: «With this generosity in yielding people and with this strictness in recruitment, we shall soon have parishes without parish priests»; he answered: «If there is no Holy Mass, the faithful will be dispensed from hearing it». Rare the dioceses that have had more zealous bishops and richer in pastoral fruits.
And we really do want to have finished with the seminaries; but we must add something, that your presence suggests and almost demands.
It is an apostolic sentence (Acts 6, 4) that says, that the ministry of the Word – ministerium verbi – is that which most belongs to the apostles, and hence to you who succeed them.
And it is precisely on the episcopal word that we want most briefly to engage you, but just as an old father does with his children. Public and private word: private word to private individuals or to persons in some public office; public word spoken or written or printed; telephoned word...
I said, engage with you, because the Pope is also bishop, Bishop of Rome and of the Catholic Church, as Pope Eugene signed himself at the Council of Florence, to associate also this great memory to our commemorations of these days.
What we are about to say to you and of you, we should therefore first of all say to and of ourself. You know, dear and venerable brethren, how the word of the Pope is often treated. Attention is paid, and not only in Italy, to our speeches, to our audiences, most often to twist them to a false meaning; and also, by inventing wholesale, make us say real and incredible foolishness and absurdity. There is a press that can say everything against us and against our affairs, even by recording and interpreting the recent and distant history of the Church in a false and perverse sense, as far as the pertinacious denial of any persecution in Germany, denial accompanied by the false and calumnious accusation of politicking, as the persecution of Nero was accompanied by the accusation of burning Rome; as far as true and proper irreverence; and it is allowed to be said, while our press cannot even contradict and correct.
You cannot expect that your word be better treated, even when it is the word of sacred pastors divinely constituted, word preached or written or printed to enlighten, forearm, save souls.
Take care, dear brothers in Christ, and do not forget that very often there are observers or informers (say spies and you will speak the truth), who, out of their own zeal or by direction given, listen so as to denounce you, after, it’s obvious, having understood nothing at all, and, if need be, the contrary; having in their favor (we must remember it as our Lord for his crucifiers) the great, sovereign excuse of ignorance
Take care, dear brothers in Christ, and do not forget that very often there are observers or informers (say spies and you will speak the truth), who, out of their own zeal or by direction given, listen so as to denounce you, after, it’s obvious, having understood nothing at all, and, if need be, the contrary; having in their favor (we must remember it as our Lord for his crucifiers) the great, sovereign excuse of ignorance. Much worse when this excuse has to give way to the aggravating circumstance of a stupid presumption of those who believe and say they know all, while clearly they do not even know what the Church, what the Pope, what a bishop is, what that bond of faith and charity that ties us all in the love and in the service of Jesus, King and Our Lord, is. There are, unfortunately, pseudo-Catholics who seem happy when they believe they detect a difference, a discrepancy, in their fashion (it’s obvious), between one bishop and another, even more still between a bishop and the Pope.
Were it not that, dear brothers, it is not only of the interpretation and abuse of your public word that you must beware, but also of your private word, that especially perhaps you may address or exchange, with goodness and fatherly faith, with people holding some political or party office, the so-called gerarchi [Fascist high functionaries ed.]. One needs to have for these people, though with due vigilance, a certain indulgent understanding. It is a matter of careers, in poor language it is a matter of bread, of livelihood. We know that there are quite a few and even many, good, consoling exceptions: outstanding people, who are able in manly, noble fashion to attune their offices to their Catholic faith and their profession of it, to the incalculable advantage of religion, of souls, of consciences, especially young ones, with that of the country. We would like to know them all personally, as quite a number of you have made known to us, so as to thank them and bless them all, one by one.
And there is yet another word that claims your attention and vigilance, a word that some may believe protected by a certain natural secret, and it is not; indeed of all things it is subject to control: it is the word telephoning... There is something which Saint Peter, the first Pope, did not have to worry about or deal with.
To be extremely brief and complete, we tell you and we recommend with insistence: never trust to the telephone what concerns you should not be known. You believe that your word goes of course to the distant contact, and instead, at a certain point, it is taken notice of and intercepted.
The Behm brothers have given us a magnificent system and splendid, perfect telephone equipment, and we are glad of this fine occasion to thank them; but we have never, we say never, made a habit of the telephone, in so many years; and we are delighted to be able, not on the telephone, but in physical presence, to give welcome to each of you in osculo et amplexu Christi, and, again in physical presence, to invite you to obey, on this solemn occasion and by the great benefit of divine goodness, the solemn injunction of the Apostle: et grati estote (Col 3, 15), as, God willing, we shall do tomorrow in the great Basilica of the Apostles, who certainly exult in the glorious tomb – exultabunt ossa humiliata, says the Psalm. We can and must say: exultabunt ossa glorificata, and we say it heartfully, in the tones of prayer: exult glorified bones of those great ones amongst the friends and apostles of Christ, who have honored and sanctified this Italy with their presence, with their work, with their glorious martyrdom, with the purple of their most noble blood; exult on this memorable day, anniversary of God’s being given back to Italy, and Italy given back to God, splendid portent of a blessed future.
And in presence of this portent, you, too, sacred and glorious bones, like those of Joseph of old, prophesy… Prophesy the perseverance of this Italy in the faith preached by you and sealed with your blood: sacred bones, prophesy a whole-hearted and steadfast perseverance against all the blows and all the snares, that, from far and near, threaten it and clash with it; prophesy, sacred bones, peace, prosperity, honor, above all the honor of a people conscious of its dignity and human and Christian responsibility; prophesy, venerable and beloved bones, prophesy the coming or return to the true faith to all peoples, to all nations, to all races, all linked and all kin in the common bond of the great human family; prophesy, apostolic bones, order, serenity, peace, peace, peace to all this world, that, though seeming gripped by a homicidal and suicidal craze of weapons, wants peace and with us beseeches it of the God of peace and hopes to have it. So be it!

(The text is taken from the “Appendice documentaria” of Fattorini’s book, pp. 240-244)

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