Pope Pius IX – Optime Noscitis – On Episcopal Meetings, 5 November 1855

[Pope Pius IX]
To Our Dearly Beloved Sons, the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, and Our Venerable Brothers, the Archbishops and Bishops of the Whole Austrian Empire. Dearly Beloved Sons and Venerable Brothers, Greetings and Apostolic Benediction.

1. Beloved sons and venerable brothers, you know that Franz Josef Emperor of Austria has earned titles of respect from Us and from this Holy See by his ancient faith and piety and his extraordinary zeal for the Catholic cause. He obeyed Our wishes from the very beginning of his reign. He applied his concern and his thoughts to protecting the freedom of the Catholic Church in his jurisdiction. When he published his decree of April 18, 1850, he took positive action in this regard to the glory of his name and the rejoicing of all good men. Hence this exceptionally religious emperor and king complied with Our demands with an ever increasing filial piety. He realized how much the Catholic Church and its salutary doctrine leads to the true happiness and tranquility of the people. He urgently asked Us if We wanted to enter an agreement with him. We would thus be able by Our apostolic authority to meet and to consult on the ecclesiastical affairs of his entire empire and of all areas in which his authority is established.

2. Therefore, with great joy, We freely consented to the pious wishes of this prince, and We decided to enter into an agreement with him. We derived great solace from this, since through that agreement, with the help of God, We can better protect the freedom of the Catholic Church and her rights (which ought to be upheld), and We can arrange even the most serious ecclesiastical affairs in his vast empire.

3. For this reason, while We greatly rejoice with Our beloved son in Christ and give him great and richly deserved praises because he glories in honoring Our religion and in following Us and the See of Peter with respect, We write this letter to you. By this letter We stir up your faith and pastoral solicitude. Thus perceiving all the advantages deriving from this greater freedom which the Catholic Church ought to enjoy in the Austrian Empire through this agreement, may you fulfill every aspect of your ministry with the greatest care, diligence, and zeal for the growth, the glory, and the prosperity of the Church and for the salvation of souls.

4. It will be your duty to zealously watch over the councils held among you so that the sacred trust of Our Catholic faith may be kept whole and inviolate in your dioceses. Be zealous and vigilant in supervising the proper education of priests, protect clerical discipline in good order, and restore it where it has deteriorated. Confer the office of parish priest and other ecclesiastical benefices only on worthy, suitable, and proven churchmen. Consider the salutary education of the youth and feed and nourish the flock entrusted to your care with the proclamation of the divine word and with useful advice and suitable writings. You should also hold both provincial and diocesan synods so that you might better provide for the good of your faithful. We think that some things ought to be mentioned to you which principally concern certain articles of that agreement and which We desire you to accomplish. Thus, the harmony from which the greatest benefits accrue to both Christian and civil society might be promoted more and more among that Catholic empire and the Church and the Apostolic See.

5. First of all, We advise you that when you publish your pastoral letters and other proceedings, send a copy of them to his Imperial and Apostolic Majesty and indicate to the government when you will hold synods. For that same reason, be careful to send the government a copy of the synodal acts since these things are matters of public interest. As for what pertains to the diocesan synods, know that many of your bishops strongly desire to provide themselves with that faculty which We granted to the bishop of Liege in the re-script published on 4 May 1851. We desire to comply with the wishes of those who requested this of Us and who explained at the same time the peculiar circumstances of each of their dioceses so that We might make the decisions which We deem most suitable for each diocese. We know for certain that nothing will ever be a better thing to stir up and promote in this Catholic government than religion and piety. Consequently, if the government indicates that it has some preference as to the form and method by which the religion text books used in the schools are written, you ought to consider the reason behind their wishes. However, your judgment and your right concerning the teachings which these books contain will always be preserved. Take care that those books are used for catechetical instruction in the primary or elementary schools through which the youth may learn the one and same immutable doctrine of the Catholic Church. See to it also that no change is ever made concerning those book sunless there is a serious reason and after councils have been held among you. It is clear to you how important it is for both the sacred and civil orders that the youth, especially those destined for the clergy, be conformed to piety, to every virtue, and to an ecclesiastical spirit from an early age. They should be instructed in the humanities and especially in sacred studies, free from any danger of error. Therefore, as you are gathered in council take care that the foundation of ecclesiastical education is sure in your seminaries and that the system of the best course of studies thrives there. This system is able to prepare and to effect the greater welfare of the Church, so that the clergy shines forth in knowledge and teaching. Take special care and vigilance in choosing professors and teachers. Entrust the serious responsibility of teaching only to those men who are outstanding in religion, piety, purity, seriousness of conduct, and praise of sound doctrine.

6. However, through the sad and well known vicissitudes of affairs, it may come about that one of the churchmen is found to be unacceptable to his Imperial and Apostolic Majesty. In order to entirely remove every difficulty, it will be your concern in granting parish ministries and other ecclesiastical benefices that churchmen who are not acceptable to his Imperial and Apostolic Majesty are not chosen for these duties. You will be able to determine this either by the character and condition of the clerics, by the precedents set by the government, or by other suitable means. In addition, it is necessary that you diligently inquire whether his Imperial and Apostolic Majesty has something against the candidates in political matters before you choose professors and teachers for the seminary. Finally, it should be your duty to carefully and constantly watch that in ecclesiastical functions and especially in the holy sacrifice of the Mass and in the administration of the sacraments, the formulae of the Church should be adopted in the language of every rite which has been approved by the Holy See.

7. You should not cease to take care that prelates subject to the bishops do not celebrate sacraments in the future by the pontifical rite unless they have already obtained a special privilege from the Holy See and only on condition that those who obtain that privilege should carefully observe all those things outlined in Pope Alexander VII’s decree published on September 27, 1659, and in Pius VII’s apostolic letter of July 4, 1823.

8. You now have heard what We wanted to tell you. We do not doubt that you will welcome Our counsels with eager ears and will take care to diligently receive and execute everything We spoke of because of your piety and your singular obedience toward Us and this Holy See. Meanwhile, We do not cease to humbly beseech Almighty God to bestow upon you His abundant gifts of goodness. May He bless your pastoral concerns, plans, and labors to the end that Our holy religion and its doctrines may grow daily in your dioceses and may thrive and flourish everywhere. As a sign of all heavenly gifts and as a testimony of Our love for you, We affectionately grant Our apostolic blessing to each one of you and to all the priests and the faithful entrusted to your care.

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on the fifth day of November in the year 1855, the tenth year of Our Pontificate.