Exhortations to Catholic Clergy
POPE SAINT PIUS X
Holiness of Life
Who is the priest? He is the man of God who brings to souls enlightening truth, conquering love, edifying sanctity. He must show forth in himself the beauty of the God-Man Whom he represents.
His mere duty is not sufficient for a true priest. He needs something higher: sanctity. Jesus Christ requires a simple Christian life of the faithful but of the priest He asks a life of heroism. And, therefore, if Christian perfection is an ornament, a glory and a halo for any member of the faithful, for the priest it must be his normal way of life: a life of faith which helps him to discern the dark arms of the enemy, a life of hope which sustains and strengthens him in his daily struggles, a life of burning and inflaming charity, a life of angelic purity, of sacrifice, of a spirit of poverty, of meekness and of a patience which remains unmoved and unperturbed under the blows of the most atrocious injuries. It must be all this because the priest, raised aloft, must by the light of his example enlighten Godís people and warm then with his fervour.
[From a sermon on the occasion of a First Mass when the Pope was Parish Priest of Salzano]
Of what use is knowledge if oneís behaviour is not what it should be? For this reason, young levites, venerable priests, tread surefootedly on the path of ecclesiastical perfection, ordering your life and behaviour in such a way that in your bearing, your gestures, your walk, your conversation and in all other things you show forth nothing that is not holy and which does not waft the odour of sanctity.
[First Pastoral Letter to the clergy and people of the Diocese of Mantua, 18th March, 1885]
The priestly ministry which is not corroborated by authority and by a holy life is a complete failure.
[Pastoral Letter to the clergy and people of the Patriarchate of Venice, 5h September, 1894]
The priest must be a man of such irreproachable habits that the world may believe him to be a "divine man", a man whose virtue is superior to that of every other good Christian.
[Letter to Rev. Father Eugene, Provost of Paris, 25th April, 1904. (Acta Pii X, v. I, pp.248-249)]
To make Jesus Christ reign in the world, nothing is so necessary as the holiness of the clergy, because the faithful are impressed more by the example than by the word or by the learning and – as the old proverb says – they will always be as their priests are: "sicut sacerdos, sic populus."
[Letter to Cardinal Peter Respighi, Vicar General, 5th May, 1904. (Acta, Pii X, v. I, p. 257)]
As we must be the light of the world by our doctrine, so by the example of our life we must be the salt of the earth (Matt. 5, 13-14). Only on this condition will we be loved by good people and respected even by our enemies.
[Allocution to the Bishops assembled at Rome for the fiftieth anniversary of the definition of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, 12th December, 1904. (Acta S. Sedis, ann. XXXVII, p.433)]
As the priesthood is a reflection of Christís priesthood, priests must reproduce His virtues. They must be one with Jesus in affection, in feeling and in thought.
[Allocution to the students of the French Pontifical Seminary, Rome, 23rd February, 1905. (See: "Le St. Siege et le Seminaire Francais de Rome," p.77, Rome 1935)]
In his every action the priest must show himself a man of God, as the Apostle desires (Tim. 6, 11), and remember that on his example depends the destiny of his people. Jesus Christ Himself compares him to light and salt, to indicate (Matt. 5, 13-14) where his actions must lead him. But if he fails to confirm by the example of his life what he teaches by word of mouth, his ministry is useless.
Jesus Christ, Who made Himself the model of priests, first taught by deed and only later by word. For this reason, if the priest neglects holiness of life he cannot be the light of the world nor the salt of the earth, because where holiness is lacking there we find corruption.
[Exhortation to Catholic Clergy, 4th August 1908. (Acta Pii X, v. IV, pp. 239-240)]
There must be as big a gap between the life of the priest and the life of an average honest Christian, as there is between heaven and earth. Hence the priest must avoid not only serious sins but even the slightest sin, in conformity with the viewpoint of the venerable Fathers of the Holy Council of Trent who warn clerics and priests to avoid even slight faults because in them such faults would be serious [Twenty-second: De Reform., C.I. Session]: not serious in themselves but taking into consideration the priests and clerics who commit them, who are holy in an even more strict sense than the holy temples: "Domum tuam decet sanctitudo" (Psalm XCII, 5).
[Exhortation to Catholic Clergy, 4th August 1908 (ibid.)]
May unblemished living habits, which are the greatest glory of Christís priesthood and the ornament which makes it honoured in the eyes of the world, thrive and shine forth among the clergy.
[Exhortation to Catholic Clergy, 4th August 1908 (ibid.)]
Ignorance or poverty of doctrine is something unworthy of a priest who must instruct the people in the law of God, but it is still more unworthy that a priest should exercise his ministry without having a care for holiness of life.
[Letter to the Bishops of Venezuela, 8th December, 1910. (Acta Ap. Sedis, IV, p.25)]
Everybody knows from experience that good living habits in the people are a consequence of holiness of life in the priests.
[Apostolic Constitution "Susceptus inde", 25th March, 1914. (Acta Ap. Sedis, VI, p.213)]
If the priest has at all times need of a decorous store of virtues and of virtues of a high order, in our times very much more is required because unfortunately the corruption of good habits has increased and become widespread out of all proportion. For this reason it is proper that a singular preeminence of virtue and strength should shine forth in the priest. Actually priests cannot live in solitude but, because of the very offices of their ministry, must come into contact with the people and this in the centres of the city where every passion is not only permitted but licentiously borne in triumph. And from this it is clear that in our day a priestís virtue must be so strong that he can defend himself courageously and emerge unharmed just as much from alluring enticements as from the danger of bad example.
[Pastoral Letter to the clergy and people of the Patriarchate of Venice, 5th September, 1894]
Means to Holiness
The priest must set apart every day a certain time for meditating eternal truth because, as he is in the midst of the worldís seductions, he must be wary lest the snares of the infernal enemy be hidden even in the exercise of his ministry.
He must meditate so that with renewed vigour his mind and heart may resist the enticements of evil and draw from eternal truth those lights which are necessary in the exercise of his extremely difficult ministry in the care of souls.
[Exhortation to Catholic Clergy, 4th August, 1908 (Acta Pii X, v. IV, p.259)]
The priest must follow up his meditation by reading books of devotion and above all the divinely-inspired Books of Holy Scripture which are necessary if he is to preach the word of God in a worthy manner.
Nowadays many go astray because, instead of works of piety and the Divine Books, they prefer very different writings and papers which are sometimes full of poison because they contain hidden errors even though these may not be of a very serious nature.
[[Exhortation to Catholic Clergy, 4th August, 1908 (Ibid.)]
Besides Mental Prayer and Spiritual Reading, the Examination of Conscience so much counselled by masters of the spiritual life is of considerable help in acquiring Christian virtues. For this reason every priest at the end of his day should recollect himself and ask judgement of his conscience. He should be a diligent self-examiner in order to know himself and see how and in what manner he has carried out his duties. He should present himself before his conscience as he would before a tribunal and weep over his sins.
[Exhortation to Catholic Clergy, 4th August, 1908 (Ibid.)]
We can preach it without fear of being contradicted, that the good priests of a Diocese, the priests who are exemplary and zealous in their duties, are those who withdraw from time to time in Spiritual Exercises in order to dedicate themselves to their sanctification and nourish themselves with words of life.
[Pastoral Letter to the Clergy of the Diocese of Mantua, 28th July, 1887]
For us priests there is always the danger that, being in the world for the purpose of reminding it of its depravation, we may become corrupted by its poison while we are trying to heal its wounds.
There is the risk that the spiritual infirmities which we see in others may diminish our idea of our own, and weaken the view which faith gives us of their enormity. There is the danger that we may compare ourselves with men of the world and think we are holy because we are less guilty, or perfect because we have less defects… [and so] the necessity of recollection is all the more pressing the more external the work we do. In the midst of so many distractions fervour must inevitably grow cold, the zest for piety must as a matter of course be diminished, the consequent languor must of necessity penetrate the soul a little at a time like a slow fever and destroy every principle of priestly life. To avoid all these disorders we have a powerful help in recollection and retreat.. the only means of getting away from the miseries of life and making us grow in those virtues which must form the ecclesiasticís patrimony.
[Pastoral Letter to the Clergy of the Diocese of Mantua, 18th July, 1892]
Piety and Prayer
Priests, if you do not wish to be deceived and if you wish to keep an integral faith and doctrine, you must cultivate piety. The devout man keeps his passions under control, does not boast, does not become proud, and cultivates all the virtues which are the sources and masters of doctrine because, besides knowing that he cannot convince anyone with his teaching if this latter is not confirmed by the authority and innocence of his life, he receives the divine word with such reverence that he considers even the slightest alteration of it a horrible crime. We should be able to say of every priest what St. Gregory of Nazianzen said of his father: "Although second in learning, in piety he was the leader of the learned." [Orat. XVIII]
[Exhortation to Catholic Clergy, 4th August, 1908 (Acta Pii X, v. IV, p.248)]
The person who is not accustomed to speaking with God in the intimacy of prayer will never be able to speak efficaciously of the things which have to do with eternal life. No matter how learned and eloquent his words may be, if they lack the breath of prayer they cannot have the power of convincing and persuading. The word of God is dead on the lips of such a person because the sense of Christ is lacking in him.
[Exhortation to Catholic Clergy, 4th August, 1908 (Ibid.)]
We did not enter the priesthood to have an easy life. We must work: that is our first duty.
To put it more clearly: to be priests is the same as to be men obliged to labour. The Apostles taught it by their examples: all priests full of the spirit of God have taught it: the Church teaches it…
We may suppose that in order to procure the salvation of souls we run the risk of losing our health and shortening our life. But is it not a glory to die of labour or while we are labouring when Jesus Christ with so much suffering died for us on the cross?
[Pastoral Letter to the clergy and people of the Diocese of Mantua, 25th May, 1899]
Some think that the glory of a priest should be made up entirely of outward activity. Overlooking almost entirely those virtues by which man is made perfect and which We call passive, they say that all his activity and study would contribute to the growth and exercise of the active virtues. It is really amazing how much falsehood and ruin this doctrine contains… It will not be out of place to consider that the exceptionally prudent Pontiff [Leo XIII] with good reason made mention of mortification which, in the words of the Gospel, we call denial of self, because in this maxim is contained the fortitude, the virtue and all the fruit of priestly ministry; whereas if this be neglected the priestís habits may offend the eyes and minds of the faithful. For if the priest strive for illegal gains, if he become involved in worldly affairs, if he give rein to flesh and blood, if he try to please men and trust in the persuasive ways of human wisdom, all this is the fruit of neglecting Christís commandments and of refusing to accept the conditions laid down by Him: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me."
If a priest wishes to have a very successful ministry, he should carry out punctually all the orders received without looking for others and he should not regret that he has not other occupations. In this way not only will he fulfill his duty but he will conquer his self-love, thus gaining a precious victory and the one most pleasing to God.
[Allocution to students and Professors of the Milan Major Seminary, 15th October, 1908 (Acta Pii X, v. IV, p.296]
Priests, let that charity which seeks only the increase of Godís glory shine forth always in you.
A multitude of miserable and unhappy ones together with legions of adolescents – dearest hope of the Church and of the country – surrounded by evil on all sides await the gift of your charity. Continue industriously not only to teach Catechism, which We wish once again to recommend warmly to you, but to make yourselves ever better deserving of society by word and work, comforting, healing, defending and purifying in order to win souls to Christ or bring them ever closer to Him.
As often happens, your charity will be met by hate, injury and calumny, but continue fearlessly in it.. following the example of the Apostles… We are the children of the Saints whose names shine in the book of eternity and whose praises resound gloriously in Christís Church: "Let us not stain our glory." [1 Macc. 9, 10]
[Exhortation to Catholic Clergy, 4th August, 1908 (Acta Pii X, v. IV, pp.260-261)]
What is the duty of those who have been placed by God to rule His Church? What is the obligation of all those who have received from Heaven and accepted the sublime mission of saving souls? … If God has commanded everyone to have care of the eternal salvation of his brethren how much more He has commanded us priests.
The priests must announce truth. Hence those priests who think they are rendering a service to the Church and who with human prudence allow large concessions to false science under the fatal illusion of being able the more easily to win over erring ones, are making a serious mistake. Such people run the risk of losing their souls. Truth is one and indivisible, lasts for all eternity and is not subject to the vicissitudes of time. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday today and down the centuries (Hebrews 13:80.
If there was a time in which human prudence seemed the only way of obtaining anything in a world which was unprepared to receive the doctrine of Jesus Christ, so repugnant to human passions and so opposed to the flourishing Roman and Greek civilization, that time was most certainly that in which the first preaching of the Christian faith took place.
The Apostles scorned that prudence because they know the designs of God Whom "it pleased to save, by the foolishness of our preaching, those who believed" [1Cor. 1:21]. As always, so also today this foolishness is the virtue of God. The scandal of the Cross has furnished and always will furnish the most powerful and unconquerable weapon and, as has already happened, by this scandal and by this foolishness we shall gain the victory.
[First discourse in the Patriarchal Synod of Venice. (Constitutiones ab E.mo JOSEPHO Card. SARTO Metropolitanae-Ecclesiae Venetiarum Patriarcha in Synodo Diocesana ann. 1898 pomulgatae, p.112. Venetiis 1898]
Dignity and Propriety
In order never to be guilty of any disedifying act, the priest must regulate his actions, his movements and his habits in harmony with the sublimity of his vocation. He who on the altar almost ceases to be mortal and takes on a divine form, remains always the same even when he comes down from the holy hill and leaves the temple of the Lord. Wherever he is, wherever he goes, he never ceases to be a priest and the serious reasons which compel him always to be grave and becoming accompany him with his dignity everywhere.
Hence he must have that gravity which will ensure that his words, his bearing and his way of working arouse love, win authority and excite reverence, because the very reasons which oblige him to be holy make it a duty for him to show it by his outward acts in order to edify all those with whom he is obliged to come into contact. A composed and dignified exterior is a sort of powerful eloquence which wins souls in a much more efficacious manner than persuasive sermons. Nothing inspires greater confidence than an ecclesiastic who, never forgetting the dignity of his state, demonstrates in every situation that gravity which attracts and wins universal homage. If on the contrary he forgets, the holiness of the sacred character which he bears indelibly impressed and engraved on his soul, and if he fails to show in his outward conduct a gravity superior to that of certain men of the world, he causes his ministry and religion itself to be despised, because when gravity is wanting in the leaders the people lose respect and veneration for them.
If the faithless modern world has stripped the priest of that halo of veneration with which he was formerly crowned, it is more than necessary that in our times he should by his bearing win once again the peopleís respect for his high dignity and propriety. The more so because experience teaches us that the world, always unjust and full of malice, is shocked not only by the slightest failings it discerns in ecclesiastics but even by their most innocent actions whenever these do not bear the seal of that gravity which it has a right to expect of them.
Priests do not, therefore, give ear to worldly innovations whose profane maxims influence minds with arguments at variance with the teaching of the Church, and lead some boldly to accuse of ignorance those Fathers and Teachers whose sound and well-founded wisdom can never by replaced by the presumptuous pedantry of certain modern minds.
We recommend to you priestly gravity which condemns fickleness of thought, that fickleness by which certain persons are led to refuse contemptuously to listen to the teaching and experience of wise men, and are induced to allow themselves to be guided by foolish arguments, and the school of modern teachings which bring them to ruin.
We recommend to you that gravity which makes you love the yoke of discipline: that yoke whose dispositions are censured by some who yearn after an unlimited liberty free from subjection, who refuse to realise that discipline is the only means of avoiding the evil of rebellion against authority, and who thus deceive themselves because they have not a firm and resolute love of good.
Priests, do not forget that priestly gravity and propriety must characterise your ministry, whereas everything which tends towards secular habits, shows up the priest as vain and flighty in the eyes of the world which is perfectly able to discern the more respectable priests even from their outward bearing.
If these are the facts, will it ever be lawful – We ask you – for clerics and priests to take from worldly people the example of certain habits which lead them to abandon their dignity and propriety?
[Pastoral Letter to the Clergy of the Diocese of Mantua, 25th August, 1895]
Nothing is so useful for the restoration of all things in Christ as the sound doctrine of the clergy wed to good example.
[Letter to Cardinal Respighi, Vicar General, 27th December, 1904 (Acta Pii X, v. I, p.421)]
Priests must be learned not only in Theology but in Philosophy, in Canon Law and in natural arts and sciences, especially in our day when an effort is made to use the conquests of science as a weapon against the Church, saying that the ancient wisdom of Catholic doctrine has finally run its course and that tomorrow science will be able to prove the truth of what today is considered false.
[Letter to Mons. L. Pechenard, Rector of the Catholic Institute of Paris, 22nd February, 1905 (Acta Pii X, v. II, pp.49-50)]
The priest must accompany holiness of life with study. The Church requires it and it is demanded by Christian people who wish to be instructed in the law of God by the words of the priest: "For the lips of the priest shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth" [Malach 2:7].
[Encyclical "Acerbo nimis", 15th April, 1905 (Acta Pii X, v. II, p.75)]
Listeners are not fond of long descriptions or flowery rhetoric such as were used occasionally in past times, but wish to be reminded of their duties and to meditate on the truths of faith. You need a good argument with a logical connection, not too long, well-ordered and suitably phrased.
[Letter to Father Luke of Padua, Capuchin and Apostolic Preacher, 13th January, 1909 (See: N. Vian, Lettere di S. Pio X, pp.345-346, Roma 1954)]
… The principal source of our preaching must be Sacred Scripture, not interpreted, however, according to the private judgement of minds which in most cases are clouded by passion, but according to Church tradition and to the interpretation of the Fathers and Councils. The Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Precepts of the Church, the Sacraments, the virtues and vices, manís last end, the duties proper to each state and condition, should be the matters to which the preacher devotes his special attention.
Some preachers praise the benefits which the Christian religion procures for Society, but are silent about the duties to which men are bound. They praise only the charity of Our Lord and say nothing about His justice. Thus it happens that worldly people hear this sort of preaching and become convinced that, without changing anything in their lives, they can be Christians merely by saying: "I believe in Jesus Christ."
Such preachers do not seek the salvation of souls but rather what does not offend the ears of their listeners, and as long as the churches are full they are little concerned about the spiritual void in souls. Their only worry is to say what pleases and their eloquence is not sacred and apostolic but redolent of the law courts. What they seek is applause. Against such as they St. Jerome has these words: "When you teach in church you must not seek for the applause of the crowd but that they should weep: the tears of your listeners should be your praise."
The faithful are much better catered for by a simple homily and by the Parish Priestís explanation of the Catechism than by sermons which are not penetrated by the spirit of Christ.
[Encyclical "Pieni díanimo" to the Bishops of Italy, 28th July, 1906 (Acta Pii X, v. III. pp. 168-170)]
The priest must keep himself aloof from every lay association even the most useful ones and even if he is moved by the best of intentions.
[Encyclical "Notre charge apostolique" to the French Bishops on the condemnation of the social democratic errors of the work "Sillon" by Mark Sagnier (Acta Ap. Sedis, II, p.632)
We very much desire that the clergy, whose duty it is to form the peopleís conscience, should take an interest in social problems and charitable works but without losing themselves in the maze of varying viewpoints or letting themselves be deceived by the mirage of a false democracy and avoiding completely the emphatic rhetoric of the worst enemies Church and the people whose speeches are full of promises as impracticable as they alluring.
They should know how to adapt the Christian spirit to the new needs created by the material evolution of contemporary society, but should remember that the Church has never betrayed the interests of the people with compromising alliances, that the true friends of the people are neither revolutionists nor innovators but traditionalists and that Jesus Christ never tolerated mistaken convictions in those who were misled no matter how sincere they seemed. Never has He inspired the humble with rebellious sentiments, never enticed the suffering with the vision of a illusory equality nor ever promised a kingdom in which suffering would be banished. He came into this world so that all men, united to Him in charity, might have peace and happiness in time and eternity but on condition that they accepted His teaching, practised virtue and listened to the teachings of His Church.
[Encyclical "Notre charge apostolique" (Ibid.)]