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Ubi Nos (On Pontifical States)

by Pope Pius IX


Encyclical of Pope Pius IX Ubi Nos (On Pontifical States) promulgated on May 15, 1871.

Larger Work

The Papal Encyclicals 1740-1981

Publisher & Date

Pierian Press, May 15, 1871

To all the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops, and other Local Ordinaries, who are in Loving Communion with the Apostolic See.

Venerable Brothers, We give you Our Greetings and Apostolic Blessing.

When We were defeated by Our enemies in accordance with the mysterious design of God, We observed the severely bitter fortunes of Our City and the downfall of the civil rule of the Apostolic See in the face of military invasion. Then We sent you Our letter of the 1st of November 1869 to tell you, and the whole Catholic world through you, the state of Our affairs and those of this City. We also told you of Our subjection to the excesses of impious and unbridled license. We testified before God and man that We desired the rights of the Apostolic See to be safe and unprejudiced, as the nature of Our supreme office demanded. We summoned you and all Our beloved children, the faithful entrusted to your care, to appease the divine majesty with fervent prayers. Since that time the ills and disasters of this City and Ourselves, foreshadowed by those first unhappy experiences, have really exceeded all bounds in assailing Our Apostolic rank and authority, the sanctity of religion and morals, and Our dearest subjects. What is more, venerable brothers, since conditions worsen daily, We are compelled to repeat the words of St. Bernard: "this is the beginning of the evils; we fear worse evil."[1] For wickedness advances on its path and promotes its designs. No longer does it take pains to conceal its worst deeds since they cannot remain hidden, but it is eager to carry off the last spoils from the overthrow of justice, honor, and religion. Our days are filled with bitterness, particularly when We consider the dangers and deceits to which the virtue of Our faithful people is subjected every day. When We recall the exceptional merits of yourselves, venerable brothers, and of the faithful embraced by your care, We are greatly pleased. For in every region of the earth, Christ's faithful have answered Our exhortations with wonderful enthusiasm, ever since the ill-starred day of the City's capture. Following your lead and example, they have prayed continually and fervently. They approach the throne of divine clemency with perseverance in repeated public supplication, in undertaking holy pilgrimages, in unceasingly thronging to the churches, in partaking of the sacraments, and in the other main works of Christian virtue.

Benefits of Prayer

2. This burning zeal for prayer cannot fail to produce the most abundant fruit in God's sight. Many benefits indeed have already come from this source, and these give promise of further benefits which We confidently await. For We see the faith and charity growing and spreading daily, and We observe that the distressing attacks on this See and on the supreme Shepherd have aroused such concern in the spirits of Christ's faithful as only God could inspire. We perceive such great unity that never until now, since the first days of the Church, did the multitude of the faithful so clearly show that they are of one heart and one soul.[2] With this show of virtue before Us, We cannot be silent about Our dearest children, the citizens of this fair city, whose love and piety towards Us exceed all bounds. Their constancy too continues to be splendidly equal to the struggle, and their greatness of soul rivals that of their ancestors.

3. Consequently, We give unending glory and thanks to God for all of you and for Our beloved children, Christ's faithful. He continues to effect great deeds in you and in His Church, and has ensured that although malice abounds, the grace of faith, charity, and confession abound too. "What then is our hope and joy and crown of glory? Isn't it you in the presence of God? A wise son is the glory of his father. May God accordingly reward you and be mindful of the faithful service, pious compassion, consolation, and honor which you continue to give to the spouse of His Son in an evil time and in the days of her affliction."[3]

The Northern Government

4. Meanwhile indeed, the Piedmont government is on the one hand bent on making the city the talk of the world.[4] On the other hand, to deceive the Catholics and calm their anguish, it has promoted certain empty immunities and privileges, commonly called "guarantees." These "guarantees are compensation for stripping Us of Our civil rule; this they accomplished by a lengthy series of machinations and their unholy arms. We have already delivered Our judgment on these immunities and provisions, and stigmatized their absurdity, cunning and mockery in Our letter of last 2nd March to Constantine Patrizi, cardinal of the holy Roman Church, dean of the Sacred College, and Vicar of Our Authority in the City. This letter was immediately printed and published.

5. But it is characteristic of the Piedmont Government to unite continuous, base pretense with shameless contempt for Our papal rank and authority. It has also shown that it completely disregards Our protestations, complaints and censures. Accordingly it has not ceased in the least to press on with the serious discussion and examination of these "guarantees" before the highest bodies in the kingdom, despite Our expressed judgment on these provisions. In this discussion, both the truth of Our judgment on the nature of these provisions and the vain attempt of Our enemies to conceal their malice and deceit have been clearly seen. Assuredly, these many errors and blasphemies are plainly at variance with the Catholic faith and with the very foundations of natural law. It is unbelievable that they could have been produced here in Italy, whose chief glory has always been in the practice of the Catholic religion and in the Apostolic See. And in fact, Italians join with Us in lamenting and deploring this novel and unheard-of sacrilege. Indeed, they have shown Us by ever-increasing notable proofs and deeds of piety that they are allied in one spirit and understanding with the rest of the world's faithful.

Warning Against Deceivers

6. Accordingly We address you again, venerable brothers. The faithful entrusted to you have clearly indicated both by letter and serious protestations how painful they find Our beleaguered state. They are far from being deceived by the measures which are disguised as "guarantees." Nevertheless We must solemnly declare through you to the whole world that not only these so-called guarantees, but all other titles, honors, immunities, and privileges-that is whatever else can be named a "guarantee"--cannot protect the due and free exercise of Our God--given power and cannot preserve the necessary liberty of the Church.

Necessity of Civil Rule

7. Therefore We can submit to no agreement which would in any way destroy or diminish Our rights, which are the rights of God and of the Apostolic See. If We did, We would be violating Our sworn trust, which We have often declared and professed. Similarly, We never can and never shall allow or accept those "guarantees" devised by the Piedmont Government, whatever their motive. Nor shall We ever accept other similar ones. These are often offered under the guise of defending Our holy power and liberty in compensation for the civil rule they stripped Us of. But divine providence has willed this civil rule to be protection and strength for the Apostolic See; furthermore, legitimate and indisputable titles, as well as Our having possessed it for more than eleven centuries, confirm Our right to it. For if the Roman Pontiff were subject to the sway of another ruler, but no longer possessed civil power, neither his position nor the acts of the Apostolic ministry would be exempt from the authority of the other ruler. This ruler could be either a heretic or a persecutor of the Church or constantly at war with other rulers.

God-given Rights

8. Indeed, is not this concession of "guarantees" itself the clearest proof that laws are being imposed on Us? God has given Us the authority of making laws in regard to the religious and moral order. We have been established as interpreters of the natural and divine law for the entire world; these laws concern the government of the universal Church. Will their observance and execution be right only because they are commanded and established by the will of lay powers? We, as the representative of blessed Peter, have received directly from God Himself all the prerogatives and all rights of authority which are necessary for ruling the universal Church; those prerogatives and rights, as well as the liberty of the Church, were produced and acquired by the blood of Jesus Christ and must be valued in accordance with the infinite value of His divine blood. So We would not be valuing the divine blood of Our Redeemer if We borrowed Our rights for the rulers of the earth, especially in the curtailed and defiled condition in which they now want to present them.

Teaching of St. Anselm

9. For Christian rulers are sons, not lords, of the Church. St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, that great light of holiness and teaching, aptly used to say to rulers: "Do not think that the Church of God has been given to you to serve you as its master you are its advocate and defender. God loves nothing in this world more than the liberty of His holy Church."[5] To inspire rulers, he wrote elsewhere: "Never consider that your high rank is diminished if you love and defend the liberty of the Spouse of God and your Mother the Church; do not think you are humbled if you raise Her up: do not believe you are weakened if you strengthen Her. Look round and see: examples are ready: contemplate the rulers who fought against Her and trampled on Her. What was their reward? To what end did they come? It is clear enough and need not be stated. Assuredly those who glorify Her will be glorified with Her and in Her."[6]

10. Now from what We have just told you, as We have done on other occasions, it must be perfectly clear to all that injury suffered by this Holy See in these bitter times affects the entire Christian commonwealth. For, as St. Bernard used to say, an injury done to the Apostles, the glorious rulers of the earth, involves every Christian. And since the Roman Church works for all the churches, as St. Anselm says, whoever takes this church's goods away is regarded as guilty of sacrilege, not towards this church alone, but towards all churches.[7] No one can doubt that the preservation of the rights of this Apostolic See is most closely bound up with the most important advantages and benefits of the universal Church and the freedom of your episcopal ministry.

Civil Rule Given by God

11. Reflecting on all these matters, We are compelled to confirm again and profess without change what We have often declared to you and what you have all agreed with. Divine Providence gave the civil rule of the Holy See to the Roman Pontiff. This rule is necessary in order that the Roman Pontiff may never be subject to any ruler or civil power, but may be able to freely exercise his supreme power and authority of feeding and ruling the entire flock of the Lord, and of looking after the greater good of this Church, its well-being, and its needs.

Pray for the End of the Fighting

12. Since you and your faithful understand this well, you have all risen up for the sake of religion, justice, and tranquillity, which are the foundation of all good things. You make the Church of God glorious with the worthy show of your faith, charity, constancy, and virtue; by your faithful efforts in the Church's defense, you fashion a new and wonderful example in its history, which will be remembered by generations to come. But since the God of mercies is the source of those good things, We raise Our eyes, Our hearts, and Our hope to Him. We continually beseech Him to strengthen and increase the illustrious understanding of you and of the faithful, the piety you share, your love, and your zeal. We strongly exhort you and your people likewise to cry to the Lord with Us more strongly day by day, as the fighting grows more stern, that He may Himself deign to hasten the days of His propitiation.

Unite the Rulers

13. The rulers of the earth do not want the usurpation which We are suffering to be established and to thrive to the ruin of all authority and order. May God unite all rulers in agreement of mind and will. By removing all discord, claiming the disturbance of rebellions, and rejecting the ruinous counsels of the sects, may these rulers join in a common effort to have the rights of the Holy See restored. Then tranquillity will once again be restored to civil society.

14. Then request the divine clemency to dispel the blindness of impious minds and convert their hearts to penitence before the great and awful day of the Lord arrives, or to check their lawless plans and show them how foolish those men are who attempt to overthrow the rock founded by Christ and infringe its divine privileges.[8] In these prayers may Our hope be set more strongly on God. "Do you think that God can turn His ear away from His dearest spouse when she cries while opposing those who straiten her? How shall He not acknowledge bone of His bones and flesh of His flesh and even in some manner spirit of His spirit? Now indeed is the hour of wickedness and the power of darkness. But it is the final hour and the power quickly passes away. Christ the strength of God and the wisdom of God is with us, and He is on our side. Have confidence: he has overcome the world."[9] Meanwhile let Us follow with great courage and assured faith the voice of eternal truth which says: fight for justice with your life, and struggle for justice even to death, then God will conquer your enemies for you.[10]

Finally, We heartily beseech from God the richest gifts of His heavenly grace for you, venerable brothers, and for all clerics and faithful laity entrusted to your individual care; and as a pledge of Our special and deep charity towards you and them, We lovingly impart to you and to these dear children Our Apostolic blessing.

Given at Rome in St. Peter's on the 15th of May in the year of the Lord 1871 in the twenty-fifth year of Our Pontificate.


1. Epistle 243.

2. Acts 4.32.

3. St. Bernard, epistles 238 and 130.

4. St. Bernard, epistle 243.

5. Epistle 8. 1.4.

6. Epistle 12.1.4.

7. Epistle 42. 1.3.

8. St. Greg. VII, epistle 6.1.3.

9. St. Bernard, epistles 126, 6, and 14.

10. Eccl 4.33.

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