Pope Leo XIII (b. 2 March 1810 – d. 20 July 1903), born Gioacchino Vincenzo Raffaele Luigi Pecci, began his pontificate on 20 February 1878. He papacy is the fourth longest in the history of the Church. He studied philosophy, the natural sciences, theology as well as civil law and canon law.
In 1884, Leo XIII had the vision of Our Lord conversing with Satan, the latter expressing his intent to destroy the Church and Our Lord giving permission to a degree. After the terrible vision, he composed the Prayer to Archangel St Michael.
By the time Pecci became pope, modernist errors had already been spreading for many years. Like his predecessors, he is known for combating them. In his time, these errors and their associated movements—for example, socialism—had manifested more overtly than in the previous years and with the passage of time providing some perspective, he had more to say on these topics than his predecessors.
Here at Opinyuns, I have been covering papal documents that relate to liberalism, religious indifferentism, secret societies and the like in chronological order starting from “In eminenti”, the condemnation of freemasonry by Pope Clement XII in 1738.
Finally, we have reached the documents written by this well-educated and intellectually gifted pope. He published his first encyclical “Inscrutabili Dei Consilio” on 21 April 1878. This is hardly the most interesting document written by Leo XIII but, as his first encyclical, it does show the circumstances at the time.
It is approximately 4,000 words in 19 paragraphs and begins by mentioning the attacks on the Church, including the confiscation of its property and suppression of its rights.
3. …public institutions, vowed to charity and benevolence, have been withdrawn from the wholesome control of the Church; thence, also, has arisen that unchecked freedom to teach and spread abroad all mischievous principles, while the Church’s claim to train and educate youth is in every way outraged and baffled. Such, too, is the purpose of the seizing of the temporal power, conferred many centuries ago by Divine Providence on the Bishop of Rome, that he might without let or hindrance use the authority conferred by Christ for the eternal welfare of the nations.
After no few paragraphs about how the Church has worked to benefit the world, particularly Italy, he concludes this part of the encyclical with a call to restore the rights of the Church. Whether intended or not, it is also a reminder that whilst there is a distinction between the temporal and spiritual, they are linked.
12. … We are moved to demand this restoration, venerable brethren, not by any feeling of ambition or desire of supremacy, but by the nature of Our office and by Our sacred promise confirmed on oath; and further, not only because this sovereignty is essential to protect and preserve the full liberty of the spiritual power, but also because it is an ascertained fact that, when the temporal sovereignty of the apostolic see is in question, the cause of the public good and the well-being of all human society in general are also at stake. …
Leo XIII then continues with a reminder of the spreading of errors and the censures of his predecessors. He also specifically states education as a method of attack, especially on the young.
13. … The more the enemies of religion exert themselves to offer the uninformed, especially the young, such instruction as darkens the mind and corrupts morals, the more actively should we endeavor that not only a suitable and solid method of education may flourish but above all that this education be wholly in harmony with the Catholic faith in its literature and system of training, and chiefly in philosophy, upon which the direction of other sciences in great measure depends. Philosophy seeks not the overthrow of divine revelation, but delights rather to prepare its way, and defend it against assailants, both by example and in written works, as the great Augustine and the Angelic Doctor, with all other teachers of Christian wisdom, have proved to Us.
Related to the education of the young is the attack on marriage and the family—ruin marriage and it ruins the family and the younger generation.
14. Now, the training of youth most conducive to the defense of true faith and religion and to the preservation of morality must find its beginning from an early stage within the circle of home life; and this family Christian training sadly undermined in these our times, cannot possibly be restored to its due dignity, save by those laws under which it was established in the Church by her Divine Founder Himself. Our Lord Jesus Christ, by raising to the dignity of a sacrament the contract of matrimony, in which He would have His own union with the Church typified, not only made the marriage tie more holy, but, in addition, provided efficacious sources of aid for parents and children alike, so that, by the discharge of their duties one to another, they might with greater ease attain to happiness both in time and in eternity. But when impious laws, setting at naught the sanctity of this great sacrament, put it on the same footing of mere civil contracts, the lamentable result followed, that, outraging the dignity of Christian matrimony, citizens made use of legalized concubinage in place of marriage; husband and wife neglected their bounden duty to each other; children refused obedience and reverence to their parents; the bonds of domestic love were loosened; and alas! the worst scandal and of all the most ruinous to public morality, very frequently an unholy passion opened the door to disastrous and fatal separations. These most unhappy and painful consequences, venerable brothers, cannot fail to arouse your zeal and move you constantly and earnestly to warn the faithful committed to your charge to listen with docility to your teaching regarding the holiness of Christian marriage, and to obey laws by which the Church controls the duties of married people and of their offspring.
15. Then, indeed, will that most desirable result come about, that the character and conduct of individuals also will be reformed; for, just as from a rotten stock are produced healthless branches or worthless fruits, so do the ravages of a pestilence which ruins the household spread wide their cruel infection to the hurt and injury of individual citizens. On the other hand, when domestic society is fashioned in the mold of Christian life, each member will gradually grow accustomed to the love of religion and piety, to the abhorrence of false and harmful teaching, to the pursuit of virtue, to obedience to elders, and to the restraint of the insatiable seeking after self-interest alone, which so spoils and weakens the character of men. To this end it will certainly help not a little to encourage and promote those pious associations which have been established, in our own times especially, with so great profit to the cause of the Catholic religion.
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