Satis cognitum

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Satis cognitum is an encyclical of Pope Leo XIII. and dated June 29, 1896. In this encyclical he writes “On the unity and uniqueness of the Church”.

Doctrine of the Church

There are two important encyclicals on ecclesiology : "Satis cognitum" and " Mystici corporis " from 1943. However, it was not until Vatican II that the topic of "Church" was addressed in a previously unknown expressiveness. The Dogmatic Constitution " Lumen Gentium " is the most important result of these deliberations. Most of the other documents developed in Vatican II can easily be assigned to the constitution “Lumen gentium”, while this encyclical can be understood as fundamental statements.

Unity and uniqueness of the Church

The Pope writes programmatically in the theology about the unity and uniqueness of the Church and explains:

“He (Christ), who founded only one church, also wanted it to be united, in such a way that all who should belong to it, united by the most intimate bonds, make up only one people, one kingdom, one body . "

With the terms “una” and “unica” that he uses, he indicates that “una” means “uniformity” and “unica” means “only (exclusive) church”. According to his understanding, the church is a uniform size that guarantees a visible unity and a structured form through the church hierarchy . He substantiates this statement with the sentence:

"Since the divine Founder wanted the church to be one in faith, administration and community, he chose Peter and his successors as the basis and center of this unity."

On the thesis of uniqueness, he writes:

“There is only one Church of Christ, and it is for all time. He who lives apart from it does not fulfill the will and ordinance of Christ; since he has forsaken the path of salvation, he is heading towards destruction. "

What was new was that the terms “una” and “unica” were given a more precise meaning and that corresponding conclusions were drawn from them. The Church of Christ is thus one and perpetual and "all who walk separately, stray from the will and from the ordinance of Christ the Lord, forsake the path of salvation and go towards destruction".

A visible church

The church should not just be something unique and indivisible, it should be made comprehensible and visible. Since the church is one body, it is also perceived with the eyes. He who deviates from the truth who presents the church as if it could neither be grasped nor seen; as if it were, as one asserts, only something "empty of air", whereby many Christian communities, although separated from one another in faith, are nevertheless united with one another by an invisible bond. In this visible body of the church - in the behavior of us human beings who make up the church here on earth - misery, despondency and betrayal would arise. But the Church is neither just this nor does it exhaust itself in such wretchedness; there is also no lack of generosity, heroism and inconspicuous holiness , nor of people who would happily give their lives in the service of their fellow believers and all people.

Christ as the founder of the church

“What did Christ the Lord aim to do with the foundation of the Church, what did he want? This: He wanted to transfer the same office and the same commission that he himself had received from the Father to the Church in order to continue it. "

While Christ acquired the fruits of redemption through his own activity, the task of the church consists in caring for people. This takes place through the exercise of the threefold office inherited from Christ, the teaching office, the pastoral office and the priesthood. The church is thus the Christ who lives on and continues to work on earth. As the ark of salvation, which should lead from this world to the invisible hereafter, it must also be able to provide the necessary means of grace. Therefore, Jesus Christ gave it the following elements: it is visible and invisible at the same time, human and divine, temporal and timeless. Its god-human founder installed it as a single and at the same time united church.

Leo XIII. describes the church as “societas”, but he also ascribes an important role to symbols and the spiritual side of the church. The church as a society cannot be completely separated from the church as a community .

Church constitution

Pope Leo XIII. left fundamental writings on the church constitution and canon law: Immortale Dei , Diuturnum illud and the first drafts of a Christian constitution. This includes this encyclical and the constitution of the Church; these letters have a special meaning because they are the scheme about the Church, the Pope and the bishops drawn up by the First Vatican Council . The encyclical “Casti connubii” summarizes the entire teaching of the Church on the family community.


  • Rudolf Fischer-Wollpert, Do you know - Lexicon of religious and ideological questions (on: Unity of the Church), Verlag Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg, 3rd edition 1982, ISBN 3-7917-0738-8 .

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