Benedict XV: Celeberrima evenisse

The Josias


Pope Benedict XV’s letter Celeberrima evenisse resulted from one of the diplomatic triumphs of his brief pontificate: the reëstablishment of diplomatic relations with Portugal. The anti-clerical revolutionaries, who in 1910 had overturned the Portuguese monarchy and established a republic, had soon passed laws on the “separation” of Church and state that in reality amounted to a programme of persecution of the Church. Monasteries and seminaries were closed, Catholic teaching in the schools was abolished, bishops were expelled from their dioceses, even the wearing of the cassock was forbidden. Pope St. Pius X vehemently protested these outrages in the encyclical Iamdudum in Lusitania. Such extreme anti-Catholic measures contributed to deep divisions in Portuguese society, and the country was torn by unrest in the years following the Revolution of 1910. By 1918 the government was ready to compromise with the Holy See, and it reëstablished diplomatic relations, asking that in…

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4 thoughts on “Benedict XV: Celeberrima evenisse

  1. Interesting, but could not an alternate translation of the Latin read, “should be faithfully subject to the power (or authority) which in reality has lordship…” ? The Italian translation of the Vatican reads “the constituted power” (“la fedele sottomissione al potere costituito”) which excludes those who have taking power in contradiction to the constitution of the State, whereas the encyclical itself seems not so much a statement of Catholic Principle as a legitimation (or quasi-legitimation) of the particular constitution of the Republic of Portugal. Or would you say that is too narrow of a reading?


  2. Ralliement cannot be both strategic and doctrinal in the same way. Leo and Benedict write of a “duty” to obey an established revolutionary power. Regardless of the difficulty of judging whether a particular power is established, that general duty either exists or does not exist. Leo and Benedict are either wrong or right about that. We have to separate questions of prudence and strategy from the question of absolute duty.


    • Yes, they are two separate questions. Obviously they are right that one has the duty to submit to legitimate authority. And that governments which originally came to be through violence and injustice can later on gain legitimacy (St. Gregory VII implies that this is true of most governments). But then various questions arise: is this particular authority legitimate? Can one distinguish between legality and legitimacy? Given that a particular power is actually constituted, can one have legitimate prudential reasons for not participating in it? That is, not accepting offices or voting etc.? Given that “whatever be the form of civil power in a nation, it cannot be considered so definitive as to have the right to remain immutable” (Au Milieu des Sollicitudes), is it permissible to work through peaceful means for a change of form? And so on. The principle, however, is clearly true.

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