Unity, the Prime Witness of God:
Joint Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Hierarchy of the Philippines
at the Close of the First Plenary Council of the Philippine Islands
To Our Beloved Clergy and People:
Trusting in the bountiful inspiration and sovereign guidance of the Holy Spirit, and obeying the summons of the Vicar of Christ on earth, His Holiness Pope Pius XII, We, the Archbishops, Bishops and other Ordinaries of the six ecclesiastical provinces established on Philippine soil, gathered together in this city of Manila to celebrate the First Plenary Council of the Philippine Islands. Our deliberations, which were held with the active participation of His Excellency, the Apostolic Nuncio, and under the presidency of His Eminence, Norman Thomas Cardinal Gilroy, Legate-a-Latere to Our Council, have now been brought to a happy and auspicious close. With Our hearts full of gratitude to God, the Author and Finisher of this supremely important work, We hasten to communicate to you, Our beloved Clergy and People, the result of Our joint efforts and the fruits that may reasonably be expected from it.
In a brief but pregnant sentence of his inaugural address, His Eminence the Cardinal Legate struck the keynote of this Council: “Unity is the prime witness of God.” For just as the visible creation, by the marvellous order and harmony of its parts, shows forth the unity of its origin in the one God, Creator of heaven and earth, so it is in so far as men achieve unity among themselves that they give glory to God, that glory in which alone their true happiness consists. For this reason Christ Our Lord, on the night before He died, prayed “that all may be one, even as thou, Father, in me and I in thee; that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John, xvii, 21).
Now there is only one way by which the unity of the human race can be achieved, and that is by their being made one in the profession of the one true Faith. This is none other than the Faith that the Holy Roman Catholic Church, the Church founded by Christ Himself, teaches. For to her alone was the divine commission given to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew, xxviii, 19); to her alone was the divine promise made that “I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world” (Matthew, xxviii, 20); and hence, of her teaching alone can it be said that “he who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned” (Mark, xvi, 16).
For this reason, Our first act in this Plenary Council was to declare Our complete and irrevocable adhesion to this one true Faith, as it is understood and taught by Peter, the Rock on which built His Church, and by Peter’s successors in the See of Rome. We made this solemn profession not only as private persons but as your divinely appointed pastors, thus bearing witness before all the world that you are a Catholic people, and as such are determined to live and die.
Unity of faith implies unity of action, for faith without works is dead (James, ii, 26), and a common belief cannot long endure unless it is energized by that mutual charity which is the bond of perfection (Colossians, iii, 14). That is why a Plenary Council such as Ours is charged not only with preserving the purity of faith, but also, as the Holy Ecumenical Council of Trent teaches, with the regulation of morals, the correction of abuses, and the settling of controversies (cf. Sess. XXII, ch.2). For by this means we remove the obstacles which prevent us from living in peace and harmony with one another, and we restore to its original splendor that spirit of fraternal love which was the distinguishing mark of the primitive Christian community (cf. Acts, ii, 42-47; iv, 32-35).
Now order and harmony in human affairs is the result of law, that ordinance of reason which derives its force and efficacy from God Himself, the Supreme Law-giver. Hence, relying rather on the inerrant guidance of the Holy Spirit than on Our limited human prudence, We proceeded to frame and enact those salutary decrees which must provide the groundwork for a thorough-going reform of Christian life. And since it is not by multiplying laws, but rather by seeing to the faithful observance of the laws already in existence, that such a reform can be brought about, Our care has chiefly been to apply to the particular needs and circumstances of this country the common law of the universal Church. This has been all the more necessary as the Code of Canon Law now in force, promulgated some years after the celebration of the last Provincial Council of Manila, rendered some of the decrees of that Council obsolete and inoperative. It is Our hope, therefore, that the legislation of this Plenary Council, after it shall have been reviewed by the Holy See and promulgated by Us, will constitute yet another bond, in addition to the bond of faith, uniting Our Catholic people not only among themselves but also to the rest of the Catholic world.
Unity: that must be our watchword in this time of mortal stress, when the dark forces of discord threaten to dissolve the very fabric of civilization. Unity: that is the urgent, the oft-repeated call of our Holy Father, as from his watch-tower on the Vatican he sees with sorrow ancient and once-Christian nations stricken with paralysis by domestic controversy, even while the massed forces of evil rise like a mighty sea against their borders. Unity: that is what we need above all, here in our own country, if we are to right deep-rooted wrongs, break the strangle-hold of vested interests on the defenseless poor, halt the relentless advance of lawlessness and immorality, and establish a social order which will enable every Filipino to live as befits his human needs and Christian dignity, the free citizen of a free republic.
The problems that confront us are difficult; but it is not in finding the right solutions to them that the difficulty lies. We have long realized, as have others interested in the welfare of our country, how these problems must be solved, and We have more than once indicated in previous pastoral letters the main lines of Our approach to them. They are, first, that the reconstruction of the social order must be premised on a deep, sincere and lasting renewal of spirit in both clergy and laity, inspired by sound principles of Christian morality and asceticism, and consisting basically in a readiness to seek and do God’s will in one’s station in life; second, that this renewal of spirit should manifest itself not only in a concern for one’s individual salvation, but in the formation of an alert and vigorous social conscience, whereby the individual realizes that his true interests cannot be separated from those of the community, and that he has a real and grave obligation to promote the well-being of society; third, that the spiritual and social energy thus generated must be organized, in the forms approved by the Church and under the direction of the hierarchy, so that they can be brought to bear where they are most needed with the maximum effectiveness.
So much is clear; the difficulty lies in implementing such a program. For one thing is certain: its success depends not upon one man or a group of men but upon the wholehearted cooperation of all, clergy and laity, superiors and subjects, rich and poor, high and low. All the members of the Mystical Body must take part in this struggle. Each has his particular contribution to make to the enterprise, and if he fails to make it, it will not be made. In the forceful words of St. Paul: “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But as it is, God has set the members, each of them, in the body as he willed. Now if they were all one member, where would the body be? But as it is, there are indeed many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need thy help’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ Nay, much rather, those that seem the more feeble members of the body are more necessary; and those that we think the less honorable member of the body, we surround with more abundant honor – that there may be no disunion in the body, but that the member may have care for one another.” (I Corinthians, xii, 17-25).
So far we have been addressing those, both clergy and laity, who belong to the One Fold because they owe allegiance to the One Shepherd, the Vicar of Christ on earth. Now We turn to those men of good will who are unhappily estranged from that allegiance, to express Our earnest desire and prayer that they may soon return to their Father’s House. Let them reexamine in the presence of God the reasons which induced them to separate from Catholic unity. Let them reflect whether these human considerations make up for the irreparable loss they suffer in being cut off from the True Vine, the source of grace and truth. Let them consider well what they shall say when they stand before the judgment-seat of Him who said, speaking of His Church, that “he who hears you, hears me; and he who rejects you, rejects me” (Luke, x, 16).
Let no one think it intolerance or pride on Our part when We demand as an indispensable condition for Christian unity the unreserved acceptance of the teachings and laws of the Catholic Church. For it is Christ Himself, not We, who has imposed this condition. His charge to Us is to teach, not what We please, not what will please others, not what the world is willing to accept, but “all that I have commanded you” (Matthew, xxviii, 20). Of Ourselves, We are not unprofitable servants; but We have been entrusted with the deposit of faith, and We must guard this deposit and transmit it to Our successors inviolate. This Gospel that We must preach may seem at times to be a hard saying, “to the Jews a stumbling-block and to the Gentiles foolishness” (I Corinthians, i, 23), but woe unto Us, if We do not preach the Gospel (I Corinthians, ix, 16): For We have been commissioned the custodians of God’s word, and, cost what it may, We must be faithful to that commission.
To those, then, who are willing to submit to the demands of divine faith, as We ourselves have submitted to them, We extend a warm welcome. To those who have not yet received the grace to make this submission, We preserve a cordial benevolence, and declare Our willingness to cooperate with them as good citizens, as long as the faith is not compromised, in any undertaking for the common welfare. And to those who persist, despite Our efforts for unity, in cultivating a hostile attitude towards the Church, We would recall the memorable words of Gamaliel to the Sanhedrin, when that assembly was deliberating on whether to put the Apostles to death: “I say to you, Keep away from these men and let them alone. For if this plan or work is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow it” (Acts, v, 38-39).
Indeed, no human power will avail to overthrow it; for it is written that even the gates of hell shall not prevail (Matthew, xvi, 18). It will stand, and in the end it will triumph, whatever defeats and disasters may be in store for us who serve it. God will sustain it, for it is the world’s one hope of unity; that unity which is the prime witness of God.
Given on the 25th day of January, in the year of our Lord, 1953.
For the Catholic Hierarchy of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+JULIO R. CARDINAL ROSALES, D.D.
Archbishop of Cebu
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines
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Unity, the Prime Witness of God: Joint Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Hierarchy of the Philippines at the Close of the First Plenary Council of the Philippine Islands