“As for ourselves,” he said, “to say the truth, we must confess that the very remembrance of the ancient glory and incomparable merits of which the East can boast are to us inexpressibly sweet. There, in fact, were the cradle of human redemption and the first fruits of Christianity. From thence, as streams of some royal river, were diffused over the West the riches of the inestimable blessings derived to us form the Gospel of Jesus Christ….While we ponder on these things, Venerable Brethren, in our mind we desire and long for nothing so much as to effect the restoration to all the East of the virtue and grandeur of the past. And the more so because the signs which, in the development of human events, appear there from time to time give reason to hope that the Orientals, moved by Divine grace, may return to reconciliation with the Church of Rome, form whose bosom they have been so many years separated.”(2)
Nor, indeed, are we, as you are well aware, Venerable Brethren, less desirous that the day so ardently prayed for by so many holy men may quickly dawn on which the wall which has so long divided two peoples may be destroyed to its foundations, and that these, being enfolded in one embrace of faith and charity, the peace so long besought may at length flourish, and that there may be one fold and one shepherd. (John x, 16)
"I believe that it is important to reaffirm respect for this principle as an essential condition, accepted by both, for the restoration of full communion, which does not signify the submission of one to the other, or assimilation. Rather, it means welcoming all the gifts that God has given to each, thus demonstrating to the entire world the great mystery of salvation accomplished by Christ the Lord through the Holy Spirit." - Pope Francis
Whilst these were our thoughts there came to us a cause for grief from a certain article published in the new review, Roma e l’Oriente, entitled “Thoughts on the Question of the Union of the Churches.” For, indeed, this article is full of so many errors, not only theological, but historical, that a greater collection could scarcely be pressed into so small a number of pages.
And, certainly no less rashly than falsely, approach is made in the article to the position that the dogma of the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son in no way flows from the words of the gospel or is proved by the belief of the ancient fathers. With equal imprudence doubt is expressed whether the sacred dogmas of Purgatory and the Immaculate conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary were held by the holy men of the first centuries. Again, when the article comes to deal with the constitution of the Church, we have, first, a renewal of the error long ago condemned by our predecessor, Innocent X, (3) by which St. Paul is regarded as altogether equal as a brother with St. Peter. Secondly, and no less erroneously, it is suggested that in the first centuries the Catholic Church was not ruled by a single head—that is, a monarchy—and that the primacy of the Roman Church was supported by no valid arguments. Nor does the article leave untouched the Catholic doctrine of the Most Holy Eucharist, for it is stoutly advanced that the view is admissible which holds among the Greeks that the words of consecration do not produce their effect unless the prayer called the “Epiclesis” shall have first been offered, though it is known that the Church has no power at all to touch the substance of the sacraments. Equally inadmissible is the view that confirmation given by any priest may be regarded as valid. (4)
Even from this summary of the errors contained in this article you will easily understand, Venerable Brethren, the very grave offense that has been done to all who read it, and how greatly we ourselves have been astounded that Catholic teaching is so wantonly perverted by open words, and that many historical points on the causes of the Oriental schism are all too rashly distorted from the truth. In the first place, it is falsely laid to the charges of the holy Popes Nicolas I and Leo IX that a great part of the responsibility for the trouble was due to the pride and ambition of the one and to the harsh rebukes of the other—as if the apostolic energy of the former in the defense of most sacred rights can be attributed to pride, or the persistency of the latter in coercing the wicked can be called cruelty.
The principles of history also are trampled underfoot when those holy expeditions called the crusades are traduced as piratical enterprises, or, more seriously still, when the Roma Pontiffs are blamed as though the zeal with which they ought not call the Oriental nations to union with the Roman Church is attributed to a lust for power and not to an apostolic solicitude for the feeding of the flock of Christ.
Great, too, was our amazement at the assertion in the same article that the Greeks at Florence were forced by the Latins to subscribe to unity, and that the same people were induced by false arguments to receive the dogma of the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son as well as from the Father. The article even goes so far as, in defiance of the facts of history, to question whether the general councils which were held after the secession of the Greeks, from the Eighth to that of the Vatican [Council], are to be regarded as really ecumenical, whence a rule of a sort of hybrid unity is propounded that only that is henceforth to be acknowledged by either Church as legitimate which was their common heritage before the disruption, complete silence being observed on all else as superfluous and spurious additions.
We have thought that these things should be pointed out to you, Venerable Brethren, not only that you may know that the propositions and theories are rejected by us as false, rash and foreign to Catholic faith, but also that, as far as may be in your power, you may endeavor to drive away so dire a pestilence from the people entrusted to your watchful care by escorting all to stand fast in the accepted teachings and never listen to any other, even though an angel from heaven should preach it. (Galatians I, 8). At the same time, too, we earnestly pray you to impress upon them that we have no more ardent desire than that all men of good will may unweariedly exert all their strength that the unity longed for may be more speedily obtained, so that those sheep whom divisions hold apart may be united in one profession of Catholic faith under one supreme pastor. And this will more easily be brought about if fervent prayers are multiplied to the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, who is “not the God of dissension, but of peace.” (I Cor. Xiv, 33). So will it befall that the prayer of Christ which He offered with groans before undergoing the worst of torments shall be fulfilled, “that they all may be on, as Thou, Father, in Me and I in Thee; that they also may be one in Us.” (John xvii, 21).
Lastly, to all be sure that work with this object will be in vain unless first, and above all, they hold the true and whole Catholic faith as it has been handled down and consecrated in Holy Scripture, the tradition of the fathers, the consent of the church, general councils and the decrees of the Supreme Pontiffs. Let, then, all those who strive to defend the cause of unity go forth; let them go forth wearing the helmet of faith, holding to the anchor of hope, and inflamed with the fire of charity, to work unceasingly in this most heavenly enterprise and God, the author and lover of peace in whose power are the times and the movements (Acts I, 7), will hasten the day when the nations of the East shall return to Catholic unity and, united to the Apostolic See, after casting away their errors, shall enter the port of everlasting salvation.
This letter, Venerable Brethren, you will cause to be published after being diligently translated into the vernacular of the country entrusted to you. And whilst we rejoice to inform you that the beloved author of this article, which was written by him inconsiderately indeed, but with good faith, has in our presence sincerely and from his heart given his readiness to teach, reject and condemn to the end of his life all that is taught, rejected and condemned by the Holy Apostolic See, we most lovingly in the Lord impart the Apostolic Benediction as an earnest of heavenly gifts and as a witness of our benevolence.
Given at St. Peter’s, Rome, on the 26th day of December, in the year 1910, and in the eighth of our pontificate.
Pius X., Pope.
St. Pius X, Pray for Us