Quo Graviora: On Secret Societies by Pope Leo XII
Pope Leo XII (b. 22 August 1760 – d. 10 February 1829), born Annibale Sermattei della Genga, began his pontificate on 28 September 1823. On 13 March 1826, he issued a papal encyclical warning of the dangers of secret societies.
This encyclical is approximately 8,700 words long and begins by quoting in full “In eminenti” by Pope Clement XII, dated 28 April 1738, which condemns freemasonry. In addition, he also quotes in full “Providas Romanorum” by Pope Benedict XIV, dated 18 March 1851, and “Ecclesiam a Jesu Christo” by Pope Pius VII, dated 13 September 1821, both referring to the earlier writings.
Although approximately two-thirds of this document are reproductions of the abovementioned three documents, it is convenient since the latter two are not readily available in English.
In short, given that the situation has not improved, Leo XII thought it necessary to repeat what has been previously communicated: warnings to the faithful and the hierarchy about the dangers of secret societies and the condemnation of such secret societies.
From “Providas Romanorum” by Benedict XIV, the excerpt below outlines the strict secrecy these groups call for:
…We confirm, strengthen, renew, that Constitution [of Pope Clement XII] by the text of this present Letter in all things and on account of all things just as if It had been published firstly by Our own motion, by Our Authority and in Our name, and We will and Decree that it have perpetual force and efficacy.
Furthermore, among the gravest causes of the aforementioned prohibition and condemnation reported in the Constitution inserted above, the first is that in societies and associations of this type men of any religion and sect whatever are united with each other, from which matter it is evident enough how great a destruction is able to be brought to the purity of the Catholic Religion. The next is the strict and impenetrable pledge of a secret, by which those things which are done in associations of such like are hidden, to which, therefore, that sentence is able fittingly to be applied which Caecilius Natalis cited before Municius Felix in an indisputably diverse case: Honest things always rejoice in the public, crimes are secret. The third is the oath by which they bind themselves for preserving inviolably this type of secret, as if it were allowed to someone to protect himself under cover of a promise or swearing, having been questioned by legitimate power, without being held to confess all things, whatsoever things are sought after for discerning whether something is done in meetings of this kind, which is contrary to the welfare and Laws of the State and Religion. The fourth is, that societies of this kind are known to be against Canonical not less than civil sanctions, since, namely, all colleges and sodalities united contrary to public authority are forbidden…
From “Ecclesiam a Jesu Christo” by Pius VII, the below excerpt warns of the masonic-humanist idea of “religious indifference”:
Indeed, they [secret societies] simulate a singular respect and a certain extraordinary zeal toward the Catholic Religion and toward the Person and Doctrine of Jesus Christ Our Savior, Whom at times they also impiously dare to call the Rector and great Teacher of this society. But these ways of speaking, which are seen to be more slippery than oil, are nothing other than darts employed by crafty men, who come in sheep’s clothing but are ravenous wolves inside, for more securely wounding the too little cautious.
Books published by these very types in which the procedure is described … have declared openly, that the Carbonari particularly incline in such a way that they give to each one great license for devising by his own genius and from his own ideas for himself a religion which he may practice, once indifference to religion has been introduced, than which hardly anything more destructive can be contrived, such that they profane and defile the passion of Jesus Christ by certain of their impious ceremonies, that they despise the Sacraments of the Church (for which they seem to substitute other new things invented by themselves through their supreme wickedness) and despise the very mysteries of the Catholic Religion and that they overthrow this Apostolic See against which, because on it the Sovereignty of the Apostolic Chair has always flourished, (S. Aug. Epist. 43.) they are roused by a certain unparalleled hate and they devise every dangerous destructive plot.
The below warns of the push for revolution, the overthrowing of the existing order:
[A]lthough Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, Decrees, that Christians (1 Pet. 2:13.) be subject to every human creature on account of God, whether to the king as pre-eminent, whether to the magistrates as ambassadors to them, etc., and although Paul the Apostle (Tit. 3:1.) commands that every soul be subject to Higher Powers: nevertheless that society teaches that it is allowed, once revolts have been provoked, to deprive of their power kings and other rulers, whom most unjustly it dares indiscriminately to call tyrants.
Leo XII then adds his own comments, highlighting the infiltration of educational institutions:
Inquiring about these things We easily understood that their arrogance had grown principally on account of the multitude of them, increased by the new sects. From which sects that one must especially be mentioned which is called Universitaria, because it has a seat and domicile in many universities of learning, in which the young are informed, initiated to, and fashioned for every crime by some teachers, who are zealous not to teach them, but to pervert them by the mysteries of the same sect which ought to be called most truly the mysteries of iniquity.
From this it indeed appears that even after so long a time since the flames of revolution were enkindled and spread abroad, indeed after the remarkable victories reported by the powerful Princes of Europe, by which those flames were expected to be extinguished, their wicked undertakings still have not known an end. For in these very regions in which the early storms seem to have quieted, what fear there is of new disturbances and seditions, which those sects continually devise!
Books which they do not hesitate to write about Religion and the State, have been published in their name, with which they scorn dominion, blaspheme majesty; moreover they declare repeatedly that Christ is either a scandal or foolish; indeed, not rarely, that there is no God, and they teach that the soul of man dies together with the body: the codes and statues, by which they explain their goals and ordinances openly declare that all the things which We have already mentioned, and which pertain to the overthrowing of Legitimate Rulers and totally destroying the Church come forth from them. And this has been ascertained and must be considered as certain, that these sects, although in name different, nevertheless have been joined among themselves by an impious bond of filthy goals.
Leo XII also reminds the hierarchy to be aware of the tactics for the purposes of revolution:
And so great is the cunning of the most calculating men that when they are seen especially to be favorable to the increasing of your Power, then they are looking chiefly for the overturning of it. Those men indeed teach very many things such that they advocate that Our Power and that of the Bishops must be diminished and weakened by those who have possession of power, and that many rights must be transferred to them, both from those which are Possessions of this Apostolic See and Principal Church, and from those which pertain to the Bishops, who have been called for a sharing of Our solicitude. But these things those men teach, not only from a most offensive hate by which they are inflamed against Religion, but also according to a plan whereby they hope that people who are subject to your Rule on observing that the limits, which Christ and the Church instituted by Him have established concerning Sacred Matters, are overturned, may be easily aroused by this example to change and destroy even the form of civil government.
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