January 2012 Print

Acts of the Magisterium: On the Constitution of the Church

A Schema from the First Vatican Council

This schema was drawn up by order of Pius IX to serve as starting-point for the deliberations of the Council. In itself, it has no doctrinal authority, but it represents the state of doctrine at that time. Several doctrinal points of the schema which could not be discussed in the Council were taken up by Leo XIII and Pius XII in some of their encyclicals.

The Schema comprises twelve sections and concludes with a list of Canons on the Church. A listing of the headings gives an idea of the scope of the document: (1) The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ; (2) The Christian religion can be practiced only in the Church and by the Church founded by Christ; (3) The Church is a true society, perfect, spiritual, and supernatural; (4) The Church is a visible society; (5) The visible unity of the Church; (6) The Church is a society which is absolutely necessary to attain salvation; (7) Outside the Church no man can be saved; (8) On the indefectibility of the Church; (9) On the infallibility of the Church; (10) On the power of the Church; (11) On the Primacy of the Roman Pontiff (12) On the temporal sovereignty of the Holy See.

The Schema with its twenty-one Canons on the Church was published as an Appendix to Papal Teachings: The Church, selected and arranged by the Benedictine Monks of Solesmes, tr. Mother E. O’Gorman, R.S.C.J. (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1962), pp. 809-823. We here present only some selections.


The apostolic charge of Supreme Pastor with which the ineffable Providence of Divine Mercy has invested Us, continually urges Us to neglect nothing that may open wide to all men the way that leads to life and to eternal salvation, so that all may come to the light and knowledge of truth, even those still sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Since God Our Savior has confided to his Church as to a rich storehouse the ensemble of doctrinal truths and the treasury of the means of salvation so that she may be for all men a fountain of life,1 it is important before all else to show those who are in error what the true Church is and to inspire in the faithful a greater esteem for her. By this means the latter will be strengthened to make progress in the way of salvation; the former will be brought to that way.

It is for this reason that We consider it a duty of Our charge to present the most important points of the true Catholic doctrine on the nature, the properties, and the power of the Church, and to respond to the errors opposed to this teaching, by the proclamation of the appropriate canons.

The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ

When that fullness of time which had been fixed by the eternal designs had been realized,2 the Only-begotten Son of God, who enlightens every man coming into the world and who has never, at any time, refused His help to the wretched children of Adam, made Himself like to men3 and became visible by taking the form of our body, so that carnal and earthly men, putting on the new man who had been created according to God in justice and holiness of truth,4 might henceforth form a mystical body of which He Himself would be the head.

In order to realize the union of this mystical body, Christ Our Lord instituted the sacred bath of regeneration and renovation, thanks to which the children of men, divided among themselves on so many matters and above all corrupted by sin, would be purified from their sins, would become members of a single body. United to their divine Head by faith, hope, and charity, they would all be vivified by his unique Spirit and filled with the abundance of graces and blessings. This is the sublime image of the Church which can never be proposed with too much insistence, to the minds of the faithful, so that it may be deeply implanted there.

The head of the Church is Christ,5 and it is by Him that the whole body, coordinated and united by the bonds of the members, each one of whom works according to the measure of his activity, increases and grows perfect in charity.6

Canons on the Church

Can. 1. If anyone say that the religion of Christ lacks stability and has no expression in any particular society founded by Christ, but that it can be authentically observed and practiced by each one after his own fashion, without taking into account whether there be a society which is the true Church of Christ, let him be anathema.

Can. 2. If anyone say that the Church has not received from Christ Our Lord any form of definite and immutable constitution, but that, equally with other human societies, she has been or may be subject, according to the period, to vicissitudes and transformations, let him be anathema.

Can. 3. If anyone say that the Church, the object of the divine promises, is not an exterior and visible society, but is an entirely interior and invisible one, let him be anathema.

Can. 4. If anyone say that the true Church is not a body one in itself, but that it is composed of societies, Christian in name, but distinct and separate from one another, and that (the Church) is diffused through all of them, or that the different societies separated among themselves by their professions of faith and without any bond of communion, constitute, after the fashion of members or parts, the Church of Christ which is one and universal, let him be anathema.

Can. 5. If anyone say that the Church of Christ is not a society absolutely necessary for eternal salvation, or that man can be saved by the practice of any religion no matter which, let him be anathema.

Can. 6. If anyone say that this intolerance, by which the Catholic Church proscribes and condemns all the religious sects separated from her communion, is not a prescription of the divine law, or that it is not possible to possess certitude and at the most only opinions are to be had about the truth of religion, and that, consequently, all religious sects should be tolerated by the Church, let him be anathema.

Can. 7. If anyone say that the Church of Christ can be hidden by darkness or corrupted by evil which would make her depart from the salutary truth of faith and morals, and deviate from her first institution, or finally fall into depravity and corruption, let him be anathema.

Can. 8. If anyone say that the present Church of Christ is not the final and definitive economy of salvation, but that another is to be expected, the result of a new and more abundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit, let him be anathema.

Can. 9. If anyone say that the infallibility of the Church is restricted to revealed truth alone, and that it does not extend equally to other truths which are necessary to the integral safeguarding of the revealed deposit, let him be anathema.

Can. 10. If anyone say that the Church is not a perfect society, but that it is a simple association, or that it is included within civil society or the national State in such a way that it is subject to the secular power, let him be anathema.

Can. 11. If anyone say that by divine institution the Church is a society of equals, that the bishops possess, doubtless, an office and a ministry, but not a proper power to govern which belongs to them by divine right and is to be freely exercised by them, let him be anathema.

Can. 12. If anyone say that Christ Our Lord and Savior has conferred on the Church only the power of direction by counsels and suggestions, but not the power to prescribe by law, and to constrain and oblige the guilty and the contumacious by public judgments and salutary penalties, let him be anathema.

Can. 13. If anyone say that the true Church of Christ, outside of which no man can be saved, is other than the Church of Rome, one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, let him be anathema.

Can. 14. If anyone say that the Blessed Apostle Peter was not constituted by the Christ Our Lord the Prince of all the Apostles and the visible Head of the entire Church militant, or that he did not receive a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction, but only one of honor, let him be anathema. [Cf. Denzinger 1823.]

Can. 15. If anyone say that it is not in virtue of the institution of Christ that the Blessed Peter ever has successors in the primacy over the Universal Church, or that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor of Peter in that same primacy, let him be anathema. [Cf. Dz. 1825.]

Can. 16. If anyone say that the Roman Pontiff has only an office of inspection or direction, but not full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole Church, or that this power is not immediate and ordinary with respect to each and every one of the Churches, let him be anathema.

Can. 17. If anyone say that the independent ecclesiastical power, which the Church claims as received from Christ, is incompatible with the full sovereignty of the civil power, or at the least compromises the rights of both, let him be anathema.

Can. 18. If anyone say that the power required for the government of civil society does not come from God, or that obedience is not due it in virtue of the law of God, or that this obedience is counter to the natural liberty of man, let him be anathema.

Can. 19. If anyone say that all the rights of man derive from the political society, or that there is not authority which is not granted by it, let him be anathema.

Can. 20. If anyone say that political law or public opinion is, with respect to public and social acts, the supreme norm of conscience, or that the judgment of the Church whereby she pronounces on licitness of these acts does not extend to this sphere, or again, that civil law can render licit what is illicit according to divine or ecclesiastical law, let him be anathema.

Can. 21. If anyone say that the laws of the Church can oblige only in the measure in which they have been confirmed by the sanction of civil authority, or that it belongs to this same civil power, in virtue of its sovereign authority, to pass judgment on and to decide in cases concerning religion, let him be anathema.

1 St. Irenaeus, Advers. Hæres., III, 4.


2 St. Ambrose, De fide ad. B. Hieron.


3 Philip. 2:7.


4 Ephes. 4:24.


5 Coloss. 1:18.


6 Ephes. 4:16.