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The Decrees Of The Vatican Council

Promulgated in the 3rd Session of the Holy Œcumenical Vatican Council


Servant of the servants of God, with the approval of the Sacred Council, for Perpetual Remembrance

OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, the Son of GOD, and Redeemer of mankind, before returning to His Heavenly Father, promised that He would be with the Church Militant on earth all days, even to the consummation of the world. Therefore he has never ceased to be present with His beloved Spouse, to assist her when teaching, to bless her when at work, and to aid her when in danger. And this His salutary providence, which has been constantly displayed by other innumerable benefits, has been most manifestly proved by the abundant good results which Christendom has derived from Œcumenical Councils, and particularly from that of Trent, although it was held in evil times. For, as a consequence, the sacred doctrines of the Faith have been defined more closely and set forth more fully; errors have been condemned and restrained; ecclesiastical discipline has been restored and more firmly secured; the love of learning and of piety has been promoted among the clergy; colleges have been established to educate youth for the sacred warfare; and the morals of the Christian world have been renewed by the more accurate training of the faithful and by the more frequent use of the sacraments. Moreover, there has resulted a closer communion of the members with the visible head and an increase of vigour in the whole mystical body of CHRIST; the multiplication of religious congregations and of other institutions of Christian piety; and such ardour in extending the kingdom of CHRIST throughout the world, as constantly endures, even to the sacrifice of life itself.

But while we recall with due thankfulness these and other signal benefits which the divine mercy has bestowed on the Church, especially by the last Œcumenical Council, we cannot restrain our bitter sorrow for the grave evils which are due principally to the fact that the authority of that sacred Synod has been contemned, or its wise decrees neglected, by many.

No one is ignorant that the heresies proscribed by the Fathers of Trent, by which the divine teaching (magisterium) of the Church was rejected, and all matters regarding religion were surrendered to the judgement of each individual, gradually became dissolved into many sects, which disagreed and contended with one another, until at length not a few lost all faith in CHRIST. Even the Holy Scriptures, which had previously been declared the sole source and judge of Christian doctrine, began to be held no longer as divine, but to be ranked among the fictions of mythology.

Then there arose, and too widely overspread the world, that doctrine of rationalism, or naturalism, which opposes itself in every way to the Christian religion as a supernatural institution, and works with the utmost zeal in order that, after CHRIST, our sole LORD and SAVIOUR, has been excluded from the minds of men, and from the life and moral acts of nations, the reign of what they call pure reason or nature may be established. And after forsaking and rejecting the Christian religion, and denying the true GOD and His CHRIST, the minds of many have sunk into the abyss of Pantheism, Materialism and Atheism, until, denying rational nature itself, and every sound rule of right, they labour to destroy the deepest foundations of human society.

Unhappily, it has yet further come to pass that, while this impiety prevailed on every side, many, even of the children of the Catholic Church, have strayed from the path of true piety; and by the gradual diminution of the truths they held, the Catholic sense has become weakened in them. For led away by various and strange doctrines, wrongly confusing nature and grace, human science and divine faith, they are found to deprave the true sense of the doctrines which our holy Mother Church holds and teaches, and to endanger the integrity and the soundness of the faith.

Considering these things, how can the Church fail to be deeply stirred? For, even as GOD wills all men to be saved, and to arrive at the knowledge of the truth; even as CHRIST came to save what had perished and to gather together the children of GOD who had been dispersed, so the Church, constituted by GOD the mother and teacher of all nations, knows its own office as debtor to all, and is ever ready and watchful to raise the fallen, to support those who are falling, to embrace those who return, to confirm the good and to carry them on to better things. Hence it can never forbear from witnessing to and proclaiming the truth of GOD, which heals all things, knowing the words addressed to it: “My Spirit that is in thee, and My words that I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, from henceforth and for ever.”

We, therefore, following the footsteps of our predecessors, have never ceased, as becomes our supreme apostolic office, from teaching and defending Catholic truth, and condemning doctrines of error. And now, with the Bishops of the whole world assembled round us and judging with us, congregated by our authority and in the Holy Spirit in this Œcumenical Council, We, supported by the Word of GOD written and handed down, as We have received it from the Catholic Church, preserved with sacredness and set forth according to truth, have determined to profess and declare the salutary teaching of CHRIST from this Chair of Peter, and in sight of all, proscribing and condemning, by the power given to Us by GOD, all errors contrary thereto.

THE Holy Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church believes and confesses that there is one, true and living GOD, Creator and Lord of heaven and earth, almighty, eternal, immense, incomprehensible, infinite in intelligence, in will and in all perfection, who, as being one, sole, absolutely simple and immutable spiritual substance, is to be declared as really and essentially distinct from the world, of supreme beatitude in and from Himself, and ineffably exalted above all things beside Himself which exist or are conceivable.

This one, only, true GOD, of His own goodness and almighty power, not for the increase of His own happiness, nor to acquire but to manifest His perfection by the blessings which He bestows on creatures, with absolute freedom of counsel, created out of nothing, from the beginning of time, both the spiritual and corporeal creature, to wit, the angelic and the mundane; and afterwards the human creature, as partaking, in a sense, of both, consisting of spirit and of body. GOD protects and governs by His providence all things which He hath made, “reaching from end to end mightily, and ordering all things sweetly.” For “all things are bare and open to His eyes,” even those which are yet to be by the free action of creatures.

THE same holy Mother Church holds and teaches that GOD, the beginning and end of all things, may be certainly known by the natural light of human reason by means of created things—“for the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made”; but that it pleased His wisdom and bounty to reveal Himself, and the eternal decrees of His will to mankind by another and supernatural way, as the Apostle says: “GOD, having spoken on divers occasions and in many ways in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days, hath spoken to us by His Son.”

It is to be ascribed to this divine revelation that such truths among things divine as of themselves are not beyond human reason can, even in the present condition of mankind, be known by every one with facility, with firm assurance, and with no admixture of error. This, however, is not the reason why revelation is to be called absolutely necessary; but because GOD, of His infinite goodness, has ordained man to a supernatural end, viz., to be a sharer of divine blessings which utterly exceed the intelligence of the human mind; for “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things GOD hath prepared for them that love Him.”

Further, this supernatural revelation, according to the universal belief of the Church, declared by the sacred Synod of Trent, is contained in the written books and unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of CHRIST Himself, or by the Apostles themselves, from the dictation of the Holy Spirit, transmitted, as it were, from hand to hand, have come down even to us. And these books of the Old and New Testaments are to be received as sacred and canonical in their integrity, with all their parts, as they are enumerated in the decree of the said Council, and are contained in the ancient Latin edition of the Vulgate. These the Church holds to be sacred and canonical; not because, having been carefully composed by mere human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority; not because they contain revelation, with no admixture of error; but because, having been written by the inspiration of the HOLY GHOST, they have GOD for their author, and have been delivered as such to the Church itself.

And as the things which, in order to curb rebellious spirits, the holy Synod of Trent decreed for the good of souls concerning the interpretation of divine Scripture have been wrongly explained by some, We, renewing the said decree, declare this to be its meaning: that, in matters of faith and morals, appertaining to the building up of Christian doctrine, that is to be held as the true sense of Holy Scripture which our holy Mother Church hath held and holds, to whom it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures; and, therefore, that it is permitted to no one to interpret the Sacred Scripture contrary to this sense or likewise contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.

MAN being wholly dependent upon GOD, as upon his Creator and LORD, and created reason being absolutely subject to uncreated truth, we are bound to yield to GOD, by faith in His revelation, the full obedience of our intelligence and will. And the Catholic Church teaches that this faith, which is the beginning of man’s salvation, is a supernatural virtue, whereby, inspired and assisted by the grace of GOD, we believe that the things which He has revealed are true; not because the intrinsic truth of the things is plainly perceived by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of GOD Himself, who reveals them, and who can neither be deceived nor deceive. For faith, as the Apostle testifies, is “the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things that appear not.”

Nevertheless, in order that the obedience of our faith might be in harmony with reason, GOD willed that to the interior help of the Holy Spirit there should be joined exterior proofs of His revelation, to wit, divine facts, and especially miracles and prophecies, which, as they manifestly display the omnipotence and infinite knowledge of GOD, are most certain proofs of His divine revelation adapted to the intelligence of all men. Wherefore, both Moses and the prophets, and most especially CHRIST our LORD Himself, showed forth many and most evident miracles and prophecies, and of the Apostles we read: “But they, going forth, preached everywhere, the LORD working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed.” And again it is written: “We have the more firm prophetical word, whereunto you do well to attend, as to a light shining in a dark place.”

But though the assent of faith is by no means a blind action of the mind, still no man can assent to the Gospel teaching, as is necessary to obtain salvation, without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who gives to all men sweetness in assenting to and believing in the truth. Wherefore faith itself, even when it does not work by charity, is in itself a gift of GOD, and the act of faith is a work appertaining to salvation, by which man yields voluntary obedience to GOD Himself, by assenting to and co-operating with His grace, which he is able to resist. Further, all those things are to be believed with divine and Catholic faith which are contained in the Word of GOD, written or handed down, and which the Church, either by a solemn judgement or by her ordinary and universal teaching (magisterium), proposes for belief as having been divinely revealed.

And since without faith it is impossible to please GOD, and to attain to the fellowship of His children, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification; nor will anyone obtain eternal life, unless he shall have persevered in faith unto the end. And that we may be able to satisfy the obligation of embracing the true faith and of constantly persevering in it, GOD has instituted the Church through his His only-begotten Son, and has bestowed on it manifest marks of that institution, that it may be recognized by all men as the guardian and teacher of the revealed Word; for to the Catholic Church alone belong all those many and admirable tokens which have been divinely established for the evident credibility of the Christian Faith. Nay, more, the Church itself, by reason of its marvellous extension, its eminent holiness and its inexhaustible fruitfulness in every good thing, its Catholic unity and its invincible stability, is a great and perpetual motive of credibility, and an irrefutable witness of its own divine mission.

And thus, like a standard set up unto the nations, it both invites to itself those who do not yet believe, and assures its children that the faith which they profess rests on the most firm foundation. And its testimony is efficaciously supported by a power from on high. For our most merciful LORD gives His grace to stir up and to aid those who are astray, that they may come to a knowledge of the truth; and to those whom He has brought out of darkness into His own admirable light, He gives His grace to strengthen them to persevere in that light, deserting none who desert not Him. Therefore there is no parity between the condition of those who have adhered to the Catholic truth by the heavenly gift of faith, and of those who, led by human opinions, follow a false religion; for those who have received the faith under the teaching (magisterio) of the Church can never have any just cause for changing or doubting that faith. Therefore give thanks to GOD the Father, who has made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light; let us not neglect so great a salvation, but with our eyes fixed on JESUS, the author and finisher of our faith, let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.

THE Catholic Church with one consent has also ever held, and does hold, that there is a twofold order of knowledge, distinct both in principle and in object: in principle, because our knowledge in the one is by natural reason, and in the other by divine faith; in object, because, besides those things to which natural reason can attain, there are proposed to our belief mysteries hidden in GOD, which, unless divinely revealed, cannot be known. Wherefore the Apostle, who testifies that GOD is known by the Gentiles through created things, still, when discoursing of the grace and truth which come by JESUS CHRIST, says: “We speak the wisdom of GOD in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden, which GOD ordained before the world unto our glory; which none of the princes of this world knew; … but to us GOD hath revealed them by His Spirit. For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of GOD.” And the Only-begotten Son Himself gives thanks to the Father, because He has hid these things from the wise and prudent, and has revealed them to little ones.

Reason, indeed, enlightened by faith, when it seeks earnestly, piously and calmly, attains by a gift from GOD some, and that a very fruitful, understanding of mysteries; partly from the analogy of those things which it naturally knows, partly from the relations which the mysteries bear to one another and to the last end of man: but reason never becomes capable of apprehending mysteries as it does those truths which constitute its proper object. For the divine mysteries by their own nature so far transcend the created intelligence that, even when delivered by revelation and received by faith, they remain covered with a veil of faith itself, and shrouded in a certain degree of darkness, so long as we are pilgrims in this mortal life, not yet with GOD: “for we walk by faith, and not by sight.”

But although faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason; since the same GOD who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, and GOD cannot deny Himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth. The false appearance of such a contradiction is mainly due, either to the dogmas of faith not having been understood and expounded according to the mind of the Church, or to the inventions of opinion having been taken for the verdicts of reason. We define, therefore, that every assertion contrary to a truth of enlightened faith is utterly false. Further, the Church, which, together with the apostolic office of teaching, has received a charge to guard, the deposit of faith, derives from GOD the right and the duty of proscribing false science, lest any should be deceived by philosophy and vain fallacy. Therefore all faithful Christians are not only forbidden to defend as legitimate conclusions of science such opinions as are known to be contrary to the doctrines of faith, especially if they have been condemned by the Church, but are altogether bound to account them as errors which put on the fallacious appearance of truth.

And not only can faith and reason never be opposed to one another, but they are of mutual aid one to the other: for right reason demonstrates the foundations of faith, and, enlightened by its light, cultivates the science of things divine; while faith frees and guards reason from errors, and furnishes it with manifold knowledge. So far, therefore, is the Church from opposing the cultivation of human arts and sciences, that it in many ways helps and promotes it. For the Church neither ignores nor despises the benefits to human life which result from the arts and sciences, but confesses that, as they came from GOD, the LORD of all science, so, if they be rightly used, they lead to GOD, by the help of His grace. Nor does the Church forbid that each of these sciences in its sphere should make use of its own principles and its own method; but, while recognizing this just liberty, it stands watchfully on guard, lest sciences, setting themselves against the divine teaching, or transgressing their own limits, should invade and disturb the domain of faith.

For the doctrine of faith which GOD has revealed has not been proposed, like a philosophical invention, to be perfected by human ingenuity; but has been delivered as a divine deposit to the Spouse of CHRIST, to be faithfully kept and infallibly declared. Hence, also, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is perpetually to be retained which our holy Mother the Church has once declared; nor is that meaning ever to be departed from, under the pretence or pretext of a deeper comprehension of them. Let then the intelligence, science and wisdom of each and all, of individuals and of the whole Church, in all ages and all times, increase and flourish in abundance and vigour; but simply in its own proper kind, that is to say, in one and the same doctrine, one and the same judgement.

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