Pope John XXIII: Ad Petri Cathedram [1959] On Truth, Unity and Peace

Articles 59-96 on Christian unity

59. Now we shall discuss a unity which is of particular concern to Us and is closely connected to the pastoral mission which God has entrusted to Us: the unity of the Church.

60. Everyone realizes, of course, that God our Redeemer founded this society which was to endure to the end of time, for as Christ said, "Behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world."[18] For this intention He addressed ardent prayers to His Father: "That all may be one, even as thou, Father, in me and I in thee; that they also may be one in Us."[19] Surely this prayer was heard and granted because of His reverent submission.[20] This is a comforting hope; it assures us that someday all the sheep who are not of this fold will want to return to it. Then, in the words of God our Savior, "there shall be one fold and one shepherd."[21]

61. This fond hope compelled Us to make public Our intention to hold an Ecumenical Council. Bishops from every part of the world will gather there to discuss serious religious topics. They will consider, in particular, the growth of the Catholic faith, the restoration of sound morals among the Christian flock, and appropriate adaptation of Church discipline to the needs and conditions of our times.

62. This event will be a wonderful spectacle of truth, unity, and charity. For those who behold it but are not one with this Apostolic See, We hope that it will be a gentle invitation to seek and find that unity for which Jesus Christ prayed so ardently to His Father in heaven.

63. We are already aware, to Our great joy, that many of the communities that are separated from the See of Blessed Peter have recently shown some inclination toward the Catholic faith and its teachings. They have manifested a high regard for this Apostolic See and an esteem which grows greater from day to day as devotion to truth overcomes earlier misconceptions.

64. We have taken note that almost all those who are adorned with the name of Christian even though separated from Us and from one another have sought to forge bonds of unity by means of many congresses and by establishing councils. This is evidence that they are moved by an intense desire for unity of some kind.

65. When the Divine Redeemer founded His Church, there is no doubt that He made firm unity its cornerstone and one of its essential attributes. Had He not done this--and it is absurd even to make such a suggestion--He would have founded a transient thing, which in time, at least, would destroy itself. For in just this way have nearly all philosophies risen from among the vagaries of human opinion: one after another, they come into being, they evolve, they are forgotten. But this clearly cannot be the history of a divine teaching authority founded by Jesus Christ, "the way, the truth, and the life."[22]

66. But this unity, Venerable Brethren and beloved sons, must be solid, firm and sure, not transient, uncertain, or unstable.[23] Though there is no such unity in other Christian communities, all who look carefully can see that it is present in the Catholic Church.

67. Indeed, the Catholic Church is set apart and distinguished by these three characteristics: unity of doctrine, unity of organization, unity of worship. This unity is so conspicuous that by it all men can find and recognize the Catholic Church.

68. It is the will of God, the Church's founder, that all the sheep should eventually gather into this one fold, under the guidance of one shepherd. All God's children are summoned to their father's only home, and its cornerstone is Peter. All men should work together like brothers to become part of this single kingdom of God; for the citizens of that kingdom are united in peace and harmony on earth that they might enjoy eternal happiness some day in heaven.

69. The Catholic Church teaches the necessity of believing firmly and faithfully all that God has revealed. This revelation is contained in sacred scripture and in the oral and written tradition that has come down through the centuries from the apostolic age and finds expression in the ordinances and definitions of the popes and legitimate Ecumenical Councils.

70. Whenever a man has wandered from this path, the Church has never failed to use her maternal authority to call him again and again to the right road. She knows well that there is no other truth than the one truth she treasures; that there can be no "truths" in contradiction of it. Thus she repeats and bears witness to the words of the Apostle: "For we can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth."[24]

71. The Catholic Church, of course, leaves many questions open to the discussion of theologians. She does this to the extent that matters are not absolutely certain. Far from jeopardizing the Church's unity, controversies, as a noted English author, John Henry Cardinal Newman, has remarked, can actually pave the way for its attainment. For discussion can lead to fuller and deeper understanding of religious truths; when one idea strikes against another, there may be a spark.[25]

72. But the common saying, expressed in various ways and attributed to various authors, must be recalled with approval: in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.

73. That there is unity in the administration of the Catholic Church is evident. For as the faithful are subject to their priests, so are priests to their bishops, whom "the Holy Spirit has placed . . . to rule the Church of God."[26] So, too, every bishop is subject to the Roman pontiff, the successor of Saint Peter, whom Christ called a rock and made the foundation of His Church.[27] It was to Peter that Christ gave in a special way the power to bind and loose on earth,[28] to strengthen his brethren,[29] to feed the entire flock.[30]

74. As for unity of worship, the Catholic Church has had seven sacraments, neither more nor less, from her beginning right down to the present day. Jesus Christ left her these sacraments as a sacred legacy, and she had never ceased to administer them throughout the Catholic world and thus to feed and foster the supernatural life of the faithful.

75. All this is common knowledge, and it is also common knowledge that only one sacrifice is offered in the Church. In this Eucharistic sacrifice Christ Himself, our Salvation and our Redeemer, immolates Himself each day for all of us and mercifully pours out on us the countless riches of His grace. No blood is shed, but the sacrifice is real, just as real as when Christ hung from a cross of Calvary.

76. And so Saint Cyprian had good reason to remark: "It would be impossible to set up another altar or to create a new priesthood over and above this one altar and this one priesthood"[31]

77. Obviously, of course, this fact does not prevent the presence in the Catholic Church of a variety of approved rites, which simply enhance her beauty. Like a king's daughter, the Church wears robes of rich embroidery.[32]

78. All men are to have part in this true unity; and so, when a Catholic priest offers the Eucharistic Sacrifice, he presents our merciful God with a spotless Victim and prays to Him especially "for Thy holy Catholic Church, that it may please Thee to grant her peace, to protect, unite, and govern her throughout the world, together with Thy servant our Pope, and all who truly believe and profess the Catholic and Apostolic faith."[33]

79. We address Ourselves now to all of you who are separated from this Apostolic See. May this wonderful Spectacle of unity, by which the Catholic Church is set apart and distinguished, as well as the prayers and entreaties with which she begs God for unity, stir your hearts and awaken you to what is really in your best interest.

80. May We, in fond anticipation, address you as sons and brethren? May We hope with a father's love for your return?

81. Once when a terrible schism was rending the seamless garment of the Church, Bishop Theophilus of Alexandria addressed his sons and brethren with words of pastoral zeal. We take pleasure in addressing these same words to you: "Dearly beloved, we have all been invited to heaven. Let each, then, according to his abilities imitate Jesus, our model and the author of our salvation.

82. "Let us embrace that humility of soul which elevates us to great heights, that charity which unites us with God; let us have a genuine faith in revealed mysteries.

83. "Avoid division, shun discord, . . . encourage charity toward one another. Heed the words of Christ: 'By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.'"[34]

84. When We fondly call you to the unity of the Church, please observe that We are not inviting you to a strange home, but to your own, to the abode of your forefathers. Permit Us, then, to long for you all "in the heart of Christ Jesus,"[35] and to exhort you all to be mindful of your forefathers who "preached God's word to you; contemplate the happy issue of the life they lived, and imitate their faith."[36]

85. There is in paradise a glorious legion of Saints who have passed to heaven from your people. By the example of their lives they seem to summon you to union with this Apostolic See with which your Christian community was beneficially united for so many centuries. You are summoned especially by those Saints who in their writings perpetuated and explained with admirable accuracy the teachings of Jesus Christ.

86. We address, then, as brethren all who are separated from Us, using the words of Saint Augustine: "Whether they wish it or not, they are our brethren. They cease to be our brethren only when they stop saying 'Our Father.'"[37]

87. "Let us love God our Lord; let us love His Church. Let us love Him as our father and her as our mother, Him as our master and her as His handmaid. For we are the children of His handmaid. This marriage is based on a deep love. No one can offend one of them and be a friend of the other. . . What difference does it make that you have not offended your father, if he punishes offenses against your mother? . . . Therefore, dearly beloved, be all of one mind and remain true to God your father and your mother the Church."[38]

88. We address suppliant prayers to our gracious God, the giver of heavenly light and of all good things, that He safeguard the unity of the Church and extend the fold and kingdom of Christ. We urge all Our brethren in Christ and Our beloved sons to pray fervently for the same intentions The outcome of the approaching Ecumenical Council will depend more on a crusade of fervent prayer than on human effort and diligent application. And so with loving heart We also invite to this crusade all who are not of this fold but reverence and worship God and strive in good faith to obey His commands.

89. May the divine plea of Christ further and fulfill this hope and these prayers of Ours: "Holy Father, keep in thy name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one even as we are.... Sanctify them in the truth. Thy word is truth.... Yet not for these only do I pray, but for those also who through their word are to believe in me . . . that they may be perfected in unity..."[39]

90. We repeat this prayer, as does the whole Catholic world in union with Us. We are spurred by a burning love for all men, but also by that interior humility which the gospel teaches. For We know the lowliness of him whom God raised to the dignity of the Sovereign Pontificate, not because of Our merits, but according to His mysterious designs. Wherefore, to all Our brethren and sons who are separated from the Chair of Blessed Peter, We say again: "I am ... Joseph, your brother."[40]

Come, "make room for us."[41] We want nothing else, desire nothing else, pray God for nothing else but your salvation, your eternal happiness.

91. Come! This long-desired unity, fostered and fed by brotherly love, will beget a great peace. This is the peace "which surpasses all understanding,"[42] since its birthplace is in heaven. It is the same peace which Christ promised to men of good will through the song of the angels who hovered over His crib;[43] it is the peace He imparted after instituting the Eucharistic Sacrament and Sacrifice: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you."[44]

92. Peace and joy! Yes, joy--because those who are really and effectively joined to the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Catholic Church, share in that life which flows from the divine Head into each part of the Body. Through that life, those who faithfully obey all the precepts and demands of our Redeemer can enjoy even in this mortal life that happiness which is a foretaste and pledge of heaven's eternal happiness.

93. And yet, as long as we are journeying in exile over this earth, our peace and happiness will be imperfect. For such peace is not completely untroubled and serene; it is active, not calm and motionless. In short, this is a peace that is ever at war. It wars with every sort of error, including that which falsely wears the face of truth; it struggles against the enticements of vice, against those enemies of the soul, of whatever description, who can weaken, blemish, or destroy our innocence or Catholic faith. This peace combats hatred, fraud, and discord, which can impair and cripple our faith.

94. This is why our Divine Redeemer left His peace with us, gave His peace to us.

95. The peace, then, which we must seek, which we must strive to achieve with all the means at our disposal, must--as We have said--make no concessions to error, must compromise in no way with proponents of falsehood; it must make no concessions to vice; it must discourage all discord. Those who adhere to this peace must be ready to renounce their own interests and advantages for the sake of truth and justice, according to the words: "Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice."[45]

96. We pray earnestly to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whose Immaculate Heart Our predecessor, Pius XII, consecrated the entire human race. May she seek and obtain from God this harmonious unity, this true, active, and militant peace, on behalf of Our children in Christ and all those who, though separated from Us, cannot help loving truth, unity and peace.