Apostolic Letter of His Holiness, Pope Pius IX, to all Protestants and other Non-Catholics at the convocation of the Vatican Council, September 13, 1868, that they might return to the Catholic Church.
Surely you all are aware that We, who have been raised up, though without any merit, to this Chair of Peter, and therefore to the head of the supreme government and care of the entire Catholic Church of Jesus Christ Our Lord, have thought it opportune to call to Us the Venerable Brothers of the Episcopate of all the world, and to reunite them, in the coming year, in an Ecumenical Council; for preparation, with the same Venerable Brothers, calling you to share Our pastoral solicitude, those provisions which will prove more suitable and more incisive to dissipate the darkness of many pestilent errors which, wherever, with added damage of the soul, every day are more affirmed and triumph, and always to give more consistency and to diffuse in the Christian people, entrusted to Our vigilance, the kingdom of the true faith, of justice and of authentic peace of God.
Reposing full confidence in the most tightly bound and most amiable pact of union which in a marvelous way binds to Us and to this Seat the same Venerable Brothers, what testimony the unequivocable tests of fidelity, of love and of obedience towards Us and towards this Our Seat, [they] have never omitted to offer in the course of all Our Supreme Pontificate, we nourish the hope that, as it has happened in ages past through other General Councils, so also in the present age, this Ecumenical Council of Ours will produce, with the help of divine grace, copious and most joyous fruits for the greater glory of God and for the eternal salvation of men.
Sustained therefore by this hope, solicitous and urged by the charity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered His life for the salvation of all the race of men, it is not possible for us to pass by the occasion of the future Council without turning Our paternal and Apostolic word again to all those who, even if they acknowledge Jesus Christ the Redeemer and boast of the name of Christian, do not profess the totality of the true faith of Christ and are not in the communion of the Catholic Church. This being the case, we propose with all zeal and Charity to admonish, exhort, and beseech them for this reason to seriously consider and reflect whether the way in which they continue is that which is indicated by that same Christ the Lord: which is the way that leads to eternal life.
Nobody will certainly be able to doubt or deny that this Jesus Christ, to the end that the fruits of His Redemption might be applied to all the race of men, has built here on earth, upon Peter, the only Church, which is one, holy, catholic and apostolic; and that He has conferred upon her the power necessary to preserve whole and inviolate the deposit of faith; to transmit this same faith to all peoples, tribes, and nations; to call [elect] to unity in this Mystical Body, through baptism, all men, for the purpose of preserving in them, and perfecting, that new life of grace, without which no one can merit and obtain eternal life; wherefore this Church, which constitutes the Mystical Body, will persist and prosper in her own stable and indefectible nature until the end of the ages, and offer to all Her sons the means of salvation.
Whoever thus gives proper attention and reflection to the situation which surrounds the various religious societies, divided amongst themselves and separated from the Catholic Church - which, without interruption, from the time of Christ the Lord and of His Apostles, by means of her legitimate sacred Shepherds, has always exercised, and exercises still, the divine power conferred upon Her by the Lord - it will be easy to convince [them] that in none of these societies, and not even in all of them taken together, can in some way be seen the one and Catholic Church which Christ the Lord built, constituted, and willed to exist. Neither will it ever be able to be said that they are members and part of that Church as long as they remain visibly separated from Catholic unity. It follows that such societies, lacking that living authority established by God, which instructs men in the things of the faith and in the discipline of the customs, directing and governing them in all that concerns eternal salvation, they continuously mutate in their doctrines without that mobility and the instability they find one end. Everyone therefore can easily comprehend and fully reckon that this is absolutely in contrast with the Church instituted by Christ the Lord, in which the truth must always remain constant and never subject to change whatsoever, deposited as if it were into a warehouse, entrusted to be guarded perfectly whole. To this purpose, it has received the promise of the perpetual presence and the aid of the Holy Spirit. No one then ignores that from these dissentions [disagreements] in doctrines and opinions derive social divisions, which find their origin in these innumerable communions and which are always and increasingly diffused with grave damage[s] to the Christian and civil society.
Therefore, whoever recognizes that religion is the foundation of human society must be moved to confess what great violence has been wrought in civil society by the discrepancy of principles and the division of religious societies which fight amongst themselves, and with what force the refusal of the authority willed by God for governing the convictions of the intellect of men through the direction of the actions of men, as much in private life as in social life, has provoked, promoted and fed the lamentable of the things and of the times which agitate and plague [afflict] in this way nearly all peoples.
It is for this reason that so many who do not share “the communion and the truth of the Catholic Church” must make use of the occasion of the Council, by the means of the Catholic Church, which received in Her bosom their ancestors, proposes [further] demonstration of profound unity and of firm vital force; hear the requirements [demands] of her heart, they must engage themselves to leave this state that does not guarantee for them the security of salvation. She does not hesitate to raise to the Lord of mercy most fervent prayers to tear down of the walls of division, to dissipate the haze of errors, and lead them back within holy Mother Church, where their Ancestors found salutary pastures of life; where, in an exclusive way, is conserved and transmitted whole the doctrine of Jesus Christ and wherein is dispensed the mysteries of heavenly grace.
It is therefore by force of the right of Our supreme Apostolic ministry, entrusted to us by the same Christ the Lord, which, having to carry out with [supreme] participation all the duties of the good Shepherd and to follow and embrace with paternal love all the men of the world, we send this Letter of Ours to all the Christians from whom We are separated, with which we exhort them warmly and beseech them with insistence to hasten to return to the one fold of Christ; we desire in fact from the depths of the heart their salvation in Christ Jesus, and we fear having to render an account one day to Him, Our Judge, if, through some possibility, we have not pointed out and prepared the way for them to attain eternal salvation. In all Our prayers and supplications, with thankfulness, day and night we never omit to ask for them, with humble insistence, from the eternal Shepherd of souls the abundance of goods and heavenly graces. And since, if also, we fulfill in the earth the office of vicar, with all our heart we await with open arms the return of the wayward sons to the Catholic Church, in order to receive them with infinite fondness into the house of the Heavenly Father and to enrich them with its inexhaustible treasures. By our greatest wish for the return to the truth and the communion with the Catholic Church, upon which depends not only the salvation of all of them, but above all also of the whole Christian society: the entire world in fact cannot enjoy true peace if it is not of one fold and one shepherd.
Given at Rome, from St. Peter, on the 13th of September, 1868; in the 23rd year of Our Pontificate,
Pius PP IX