Ubi Primum – On Discipline for Religious, by Pope Pius IX, 17 June 1847

To All Supreme Moderators, Abbots, Provincials and Other Superiors of the Regular Orders. Beloved Sons in Religion, We give you Greetings and Our Apostolic Blessing.

1. Among the chief goals of Our Apostolic ministry is to embrace your religious families with fatherly love, giving them Our most zealous attention, support and protection, and planning and providing for their greater good and dignity. For your Orders were founded by extremely holy men under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for the greater glory of Almighty God and for the salvation of souls. In this, the founders were encouraged by this holy See. By their many different forms, they adorn the Church with variety. As the select auxiliary troops among the soldiers of Christ, they have always been of very great benefit, adornment and protection to both the Christian and the civil commonwealth. Their members, called by God despise all earthly things with their sublime unconquerable spirit. In regarding only heavenly things, they devote themselves to and accomplish with noble toil those important works which are an excellent service to the Catholic Church and civil society.

2. From their beginnings, the religious families have been noted for their talented members who excel in every sort of teaching and learning. These are virtuous and distinguished men of high offices, aflame with burning love for God and men, and superb examples to the world, to angels and to men. They wished nothing more than to meditate on divine things day and night and to endure suffering in imitation of Jesus. They wished also to spread the Catholic faith and teaching and to fight bravely for it, eagerly enduring bitterness, torture, and punishment. They were even willing to sacrifice their very life to bring primitive savage peoples out of the darkness of error, ferocious customs, and the mud of vices to the light of Gospel truth, the practice of virtue, and the pursuits of civil society. They also developed and supported letters, studies, and arts, thus protecting them from perishing. They formed the tender minds and malleable hearts of the young by instilling in them sound teaching. In addition, they recalled the wandering to the path of salvation. Furthermore, since they are merciful, they have practiced every sort of heroic charity at the risk of their lives. This enables them to lovingly provide aid for those who are captive in jail, those who are sick or dying and all who are wretched in want or struck by disaster; they hope to lessen their pain, wipe away their tears, and look after their needs with their entire resources and efforts.

3. For this reason the Fathers and Doctors of the Church were right in lavishly praising these searchers for evangelical perfection; they were also right to take strong exception to those who rashly attacked them on the grounds that these holy organizations were useless and destructive of society. Our predecessors always kindly regarded and showed respect to the Regular Orders; furthermore, they protected them their patronage and accorded them with greater privileges and duties in their awareness that great good and benefit for the whole Christian commonwealth always resulted from these Orders. Our predecessors learned that an enemy was secretly sowing cockle among the wheat and that little foxes were destroying the blossoming vine shoots; they at once gave their attention to rooting out and destroying whatever could prevent the seed which had been sown from producing the richest and most abundant harvest. For this reason then Our predecessors, especially Clement VIII of happy memory, and likewise Urban VIII, Innocent X, Alexander VII, Clement IX, Innocent XI, as also Innocent XII, Clement XI, Pius VII and Leo XII elaborated beneficial plans and published wise Decrees and Constitutions. In doing this, they devoted their Pontifical watchfulness and foresight to completely removing the evils which at critical periods had crept into religious families, and also to protecting or re-establishing their regular discipline.

4. Therefore, in Our great love and care for these Orders, in imitation of Our Predecessors, and abiding by the wise sanctions of the Fathers of Trent in particular (session 25 on Regular and Monastic Clergy) with regard to Our duty, We have decided to turn Our thoughts to your religious families. If there is anything weak in them We may strengthen it, if anything ill We may heal it, if anything broken We may bind it up, if anything lost We may lead it back, if anything cast down, We may raise it up. We do this in order that integrity of morals, holiness of life, observance of regular discipline, letters, sciences—the sacred sciences especially—and the particular laws of each Order may everywhere be revitalized to thrive and flourish more day by day.

5. We rejoice that many members of these sacred families remember their holy vocation, conduct themselves virtuously, excel in their teaching, follow in the footsteps of their famous founders, and toil in the ministry of salvation, spreading abroad the good news of Christ. Yet We grieve that some forget their profession and rank, and stray far from the purpose they embraced. This causes great harm to their orders because to the faithful they present merely the appearance and habit of piety, but they actually contradict the holiness, good name and state of their professed purpose by their life and morals.

6. Therefore We are sending these letters to you, the Moderators of these Orders, to tell you what plans We have for the renewal of regular discipline. Our plan is devoted to achieving and preserving the safety and prosperity of each religious family, to providing benefits for the nations, to improving divine worship and to promoting the glory of God. For in renewing the discipline of your Orders, We hope to produce diligent and industrious workers, accomplished men of God ready for every good work. These men would cultivate the Lord’s vineyard, spread the Catholic faith among pagan races in particular, and work on the serious business of the Church and this Apostolic See. But in order that an affair of such importance for religion and for the regular orders themselves may succeed, We have established a special Congregation of cardinals which We have named the Congregation on the State of Regulars. With their remarkable wisdom, prudence, advice and practical experience, these brothers may give us a helping hand in this great work.

7. But We call you too, beloved sons, to be partners in this work, and We ask that you collaborate eagerly with Us in accomplishing Our object, so that your order may shine again with its former honor and brightness. Therefore, in accordance with your position and your office, leave nothing unattempted, so that the religious men under your authority meditate earnestly upon the vocation to which they have been called, walk worthily in it, and endeavor religiously to fulfill their vows. Guard their holy discipline and oppose the attractions, sports, and business if the world which they have renounced; instead let them press on with unceasing prayer and the recollection, teaching and reading of heavenly things. Let them labor for the salvation of souls presenting themselves as modest, humble, sober, kindly, patient, and just men, irreproachable in integrity and chastity, burning with charity, and reputed for wisdom.

Let them not offend anyone, but offer to all an example of good works so that the Adversary must fear when he cannot speak any evil of them.

8. These men have renounced entirely the charms, pleasures, deceitfulness and vanity of all things human; they have instead promised and professed that they are devoted to the worship of God. Because of this, they must live a holy and virtuous life so that other Christians may be inspired to emulate them. Since the well-being of every sacred family clearly depends first upon careful selection of novices, and secondly, upon the excellence of their training, We exhort you to examine carefully beforehand the character, spirit and morals of those who wish to join you. Also investigate closely their prudence, spirit and reason for entering the religious life. If their only aim in embracing the religious life is the glory of God, the benefit of the Church, and the salvation of themselves and of others, then admit them to your order. Teach them piously and holily using excellent teachers during their novitiate so that they receive the best possible formation in all virtue and in the way of the religious life which they have entered.

9. The regular orders have always been noted for their promotion of an enthusiasm for writing and for the illumination of our knowledge of human and divine affairs by their many learned and painstaking works. Therefore promote a correct method of study in accordance with the rules of your Order, and to make every effort to see to it that your members ceaselessly apply themselves to learning humane letters and the stricter disciplines, especially the sacred ones. Then, they themselves, once they have been trained in the best and soundest teaching, may fulfill religiously and wisely the demands of their position and the sacred ministries.

10. Now We earnestly hope that all who are soldiers in the camp of the Lord honor God with one mind and one tongue and strive to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Hence, We repeatedly demand of you that in intimate concord, charity, and great unanimity with the bishops and with the secular clergy, you unite your aims, and strive might and main at the work of the ministry in order to build up the body of Christ. Moreover be zealous always for the better graces. For “there is one universal Church outside of which no one at all is saved; it contains regular and secular prelates along with those under their jurisdiction, who all profess one Lord, one faith and one baptism.

Therefore, it is fitting that all who are of this one body be also of one mind, and be bound to each other like brothers in the bond of charity.” (Clement I on the excesses of prelates).

11. Beloved sons, what We wished to convey to you in this letter of Ours was to let you know Our great good will towards you and your religious families, and Our eagerness to provide for the affairs, benefits, dignity and splendor of these families. We do not doubt that you will be proud to act in accordance with Our desires and careful advice. In this confident hope then, as an indication of Our dedicated will and charity towards you and all your companions in religion, and as an augury of all heavenly gifts, We lovingly and from Our heart impart to you all, beloved sons in religion, Our Apostolic Blessing.

Given in Rome at Saint Mary Major’s on the 17th of June, 1847 in the first year of Our Pontificate.