The Father William Most Collection
Abstract of Leo XIII Satis cognitum
1. Unity, characteristic of the Church founded by Christ, has a strong influence on souls. The conditions for the return of Protestants are established by God, not by men.
2. Both in the natural and in the supernatural order, God makes use of men to serve men. So Jesus Christ has perpetuated His mission in the Catholic Church, which is both spiritual and visible. That external element is essential to the life of the Church, which is simply the living mystical Body of Christ. The physical Christ the Head is the principle of the supernatural life that animates the Church.
Two errors: (1) Some affirm exclusively the spiritual nature of the Church; (2) some deny any supernatural element. Christ is a person with two natures. The Church is a society which is both supernatural and exterior at the same time. This twofold element will last for the life of the Church. To determine the nature of the Church, we must investigate what Christ wanted and did.
3. The true Church of Christ is one, as Scripture shows. But many errors have arisen about the unity. The unity of the Church is that which Christ has given and made. Christ did not found the Church as a conglomerate of Christian communities. The Church is integrated by one only community, because Christ alone has spoken of one Church, His own, and so as Christ is one person and His mission was universal, so also the Church is one only community, and its mission extends to all times and places.
The prophetic testimonies on that unity are clear, e.g., Isaiah spoke of one mountain. Christ said His Church is one mystical Body, as we see in the texts of St. Paul. Christ founded the Church as one society which all are obliged to enter.
The priestly prayer of Christ makes clear this point. The unity of the Church should reflect the unity of the Trinity. That unity of the Church implies the unity of faith established by Christ Himself, which can only be conserved by another external principle determined by the Savior.
4. To see that we go back to the origins of Christianity. The disciples had to accept all of His doctrine. In sending them, Christ conferred on them His own power, gave them the means needed to exercise it, and ordered the faithful to accept all the doctrine of the Apostles.
This mission of the Apostles is perpetual, it did not end with the death of the Apostles. So the teaching authority He gave the Apostles passed to their successors. The first Bishops were sent out by the Apostles.
The Church has always kept, in virtue of that transmission, the integrity of the faith. The heretics are condemned by mutilating that fullness of faith. The Magisterium of the Church is, then, the external principle of unity of the faith.
So there is in the Church, by the will of Christ, an authentic and perpetual magisterium, whose teachings must be accepted as coming from Christ. One either accepts the faith entirely or stops having faith, for he who rejects even one revealed truth, gives up the faith.
5. The purpose of the Church is not solely teaching - it is ordered also to the sanctification of souls. For that faith alone is not enough, there is also needed the worship, the sacraments, and the legislation, all found in the Church. But the powers needed for this purpose were given by God to the Apostles and their successors, not to the faithful.
The Church is a perfect society, the most perfect of all societies, invested with all powers to legislate, judge, and govern. It has a supreme authority. Those who break with it are in schism.
That supreme authority is Peter and his successors, who hold the Church together like cement. So Peter has the fullness of power of jurisdiction in the whole Church. No earthly power will prevail over the firmness of that rock.
The Church is also a kingdom. The keys of that kingdom were received by Peter and his successors, so that his power is supreme and totally independent. Christ promised Peter that his faith would not fail at any time so that the Church is the column of truth.
This power of Peter, principle of unity of the Church, is perpetual in his successors, the Popes.
6. There are other powers in the Church, those of the Apostles and their successors, the Bishops, whose power is not supreme or universal, but yet they are not mere vicars of the Pope.
That union of the Bishops with the Pope is absolute, necessary. No power was given the Apostles independently of Peter A. Bishop who separates from Peter would lose his authority in the Church. This union is what Christ willed.
Peter has over the episcopate a true and supreme authority. The entire body of the Bishops has no authority without the Pope. Popes have the authority to approve or to annul councils.
On the other hand, the submission of the faithful to two authorities, papal and episcopal, does not imply confusion in the government of the Church, for the two authorities are not on the same level.
7. This doctrine will help Catholics to adhere to their Bishops and to the Pope. One cannot have Christ as his father who does not have the Church for his mother.