Rorate Caeli

Pius XII addresses the Jesuits:
“Let what is certain and firm be distinguished from what is offered as conjecture.”

On September 17, 1946, Pope Pius XII spoke to the electors of the Society of Jesus at their General Congregation called to elect a new Superior General.  Because of the terrible devastation of Europe in World War II, there had been no Superior General of the Order from 1942-1946.  They elected the Belgian, John-Baptiste Janssens, who led the Society of Jesus until 1964.  His successor was Pedro Arrupe.

This address was available on the Vatican site only in Latin.  An Italian translation appeared on January 24, 2014 on Chiesa e post Concilio.  This English translation of the main body of the text is offered not only as a vignette of relatively recent Church history but also as part of the prelude to the tempest within the Church whose origins are in the post-war years but whose winds reached storm force in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. In some ways the address seems quaint, made so in part by Pope Pius’ formal style and by his exhortation to follow the tried and true way of St Thomas and of the Catholic way of doing theology.   But in order to understand the roots of the serious problems of the Church today, one must understand the atmosphere in which they were hatched.  And this is especially true in our time when a Jesuit sits on the Throne of Peter.

In the first few paragraphs of the address, Pius XII thanks the Jesuits for their faithfulness and courage during the war.  He speaks about the Jesuits who were killed in battle, who suffered in concentration camps, and those who did their best to keep their seminaries open.  The main part of the address  is concerned with the future and the role of the Jesuits in the coming years, years, according to the Pope, that would be marked with grave difficulties, especially in matters of Church doctrine.  The following are the words of Pius XII in his address to the General Congregation in an exclusive English translation.


Address "Quamvis inquieti"
of Pope Pius XII
to the Fathers of the Society of Jesus
Delegates in General Congregation XXIX

Now there is nothing that calls us more urgently and pressingly than to restore the authority of religion and Christian moral discipline with due honor and vigor.  Alas, into what times we have fallen because of the negligence of those immortal goods given to us by God.!  Wherever one looks one sees those who are totally ignorant of the Catholic faith, even the rudiments of religion itself.  We see those who see nothing impious in crimes and license, those who disregard even the most elementary norms of morality and justice.  There are those who rage against sacred things, and there are those who neglect them out of laziness.  In whole regions and nations the social order is distorted.  These are wicked times because of wicked men. Men must become good in order for the times to become good.

The Church is aware and understands that it is above all up to her to resist whatever is full of evil and to cure those people who are sick.   And she undertakes this work, trusting above all in the help and the grace of God.  For one can apply usefully even in our times that which the Doctor of the Gentiles said:  “But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”. (Romans 5, 20) Even in our times the Sun of salvation shines forth, seeing that Christ invites us as well to apostolic labor with those words:  “Lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest.” (John 4, 35).  These words of the Divine Redeemer avail above all for the Sacred Missions and bring an extraordinary comfort.  But they are of great worth also for the nations and for Christians and Catholics of every time.  In fact everywhere the religious fervor of Christians grows and is inflamed by new incentives. Everywhere the eyes and minds of men are turning to the Church,  looking to her for that safety that is salvation, looking to her more than to anyone else.  Everywhere there are so very many who have indeed a “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5,6) and burn with desire for light and for divine Grace.

This is the great work to which the Church has to commit herself!  In carrying out this work she trusts also in you, trusting in your zeal and self-dedication, trusting above all in your religious profession and in your erudition.  Will our hope be in vain?  Absolutely not. We know from experience by what zeal you are moved and how your will burns to be part of what has to be done.  You act for Jesus; and the Society of Jesus will contribute in an important way to the preparation for such holy triumph, and you are imparting your enthusiasm to many others by your example.

But you should be aware of some conditions that must be met, so that what we put forth as what should happen may turn out well, and so that you may fulfill our expectations.  The most important is that you need to be firmly faithful to your Constitutions and to all of their prescriptions.  The rules of your Order, if it seems opportune, may be here and there adjusted to the new ideas of today’s world.  The essential things, however, may not be in any way touched and they must remain always.  For example:  “Tertianship” must be preserved, which other religious families have adopted in imitation of you, and thanks to that third year before Solemn Profession, the vein of intimate spiritual life grows among you with greater abundance.  Other important things are your customs of meditation and silence, and especially the traditional precepts with respect to teaching students.  This way of instruction has lasted a long time, and for this reason it is alive and efficacious.  Just as it takes a long time for a strong oak to grow, so does it take great patience to form a man of God.   Therefore one should temper the generous boldness of youth that makes them tend to act prematurely.  Something done in too much haste has a scattering effect rather than building something up, and it hurts the one who acts in this way as well as the apostolic work.

If you wish to be true and intrepid apostles, strengthen yourselves assiduously, formed by soaking up the spirit of the Exercises of your Holy Father Ignatius (cf. Epist. Insti. S.J. n 174, 2) and thereby will you acquire solid supernatural virtues to enable you carry out your service to Christ with an ardent faith.  As living members of the mystical Body of Christ, strive to gain in this way the means of heavenly grace.  Moved by love for the Divine Redeemer, put behind you that perverse love of self, humble yourselves, keeping in check and controlling your emotions, and with the discipline of this assistance, you will render yourselves fit and ready to carry out all that is asked of you, in support of all difficulties.

From this it will follow that the virtue of obedience will never rest on an unstable foundation.  Your motto, your honor, your strength is obedience, which demands that  above all that you be completely flexible to the will of your directors, without complaint, without murmuring, without blameworthy criticism which, as a disease of our epoch, dissipates strength and renders the initiatives of  apostolic work feeble and unfruitful. The weighty matters that impose austere obedience will become light for you, if you emanate love.  And where there is love there is God himself, because “God is love”.  Let there be in you “the charity that rises from a pure heart, from a good conscience and from a sincere faith. (I Timothy 1, 5)….

Your duty is to be in name and deed not only truly religious men, but also men of great learning.  Carry out the task of teaching theology in word and in writing, biblical and other sacred texts,  the other ecclesiastical disciplines, and philosophy as well.  This high honor belongs to you, a noble undertaking but also the noble reason for which you have assumed this ministry.  For all and for each of those to whom this task has been assigned resounds the cry of the Apostle:  “O, Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge.” (I Timothy 6,20)

Therefore, to respond faithfully to such a hope, may the Society of Jesus be true to her precepts that prescribe them to follow the doctrine of St. Thomas, “as the most solid, the most sure, the most in agreement with and conforming to the Constitutions” (cf. Epitom. Nn. 315-318), and may they stand with the Magisterium of the Church with that tireless constancy that is associated with your ranks, having, in the words of the Holy Founder himself of your Society, the spirit prepared and ready to obey in everything the true Bride of Christ our Lord, which is our holy Mother, the hierarchical Church”, and “believing that between Christ our Lord, the Spouse, and the Church, his Bride, there is the Spirit himself who governs and rules us for the salvation of our souls; Because by the same Spirit and our Lord who gave the Ten Commandments, our holy Mother the Church is directed and governed.” (Spiritual Exercises, Rules for having the true Sentiment with the Church, 1a and 13a).

And if they ought to cultivate faith above all, they must also secure a careful and accomplished learning, and, following the path of your Rule, pursue advances in thought, as much and however they are able, being convinced that they are able to contribute a great deal by this path, as difficult as it is, to the greater glory of God and to the building up of the Church.  In addition they must speak to men of their own time, as much by speaking as by the written word, in such a way that they are listened to with understanding and with a willing disposition.  It follows that in putting forth and talking about matters in question, in how they frame their arguments and the style of speaking they choose, they need to adapt in a wise manner their discourses to the character and disposition of the time in which they live.  But that which is immutable, let no one disturb it or change it.  Much has been said, but not enough after due consideration, about the “Nouvelle Théologie”, which, because of its characteristic of moving along with everything in a state of perpetual motion, will always be on the road to somewhere but will never arrive anywhere.  If one thought that one had to agree with an idea like that, what would become of Catholic dogmas, which must never change?  What would happen to the unity and stability of faith?

As you consider the veneration of indefectible Truth as something holy and solemn, apply yourselves to examine and work out with zeal those problems that cause people of today to vacillate in their beliefs, above all if those problems are able to generate obstacles and difficulties for Christian scholars.  By shedding light on these difficulties and transforming by your effort what seemed to be an obstacle, strengthen their faith in this way.  But when new or bold questions are examined, let the principles of Catholic doctrine shine forth in splendor before the mind.  Let what rings with the sound of something totally new in theology be carefully weighed with a watchful prudence.  Let what is certain and firm be distinguished from what is offered as conjecture, from those things that a transitory and not always praiseworthy way of thinking is able to introduce and insert even into theology and philosophy.  To the one who is in error, let a friendly hand be extended.  But there must be no indulgence at all given to the errors contained in their opinions. 

 Having given you this exhortation, dearest friends, we now impart to you with love the Apostolic Blessing, and we invoke upon you with many prayers the assistance of God, without which we can do nothing and with which we can do everything, so that you may consecrate yourselves and your resources in the way of your forefathers and with new zeal for the most holy cause of the Gospel.  Be strong, perform feats of strength. “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  To him be the glory, now and forever. Amen.” (2 Peter 3,18)

Translated by Fr. Richard G. Cipolla