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Pius XI in 1930
|Papacy began||6 February 1922|
|Papacy ended||10 February 1939|
|Ordination||20 December 1879|
|Consecration||28 October 1919
by Aleksander Kakowski
|Created Cardinal||13 June 1921
by Pope Benedict XV
|Birth name||Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti|
31 May 1857|
Desio, Lombardy-Venetia, Austrian Empire
|Died||10 February 1939
Apostolic Palace, Vatican City
|Motto||Raptim Transit (It goes by swiftly Job 6:15) 
Pax Christi in Regno Christi (The Peace of Christ in the Realm of Christ)
|Coat of arms|
|Other popes named Pius|
|Ordination history of Pope Pius XI|
|Date of ordination||20 December 1879|
|Principal consecrator||Aleksander Kakowski|
|Co-consecrators||Józef Sebastian Pelczar
Stanisław Kazimierz Zdzitowiecki
|Date of consecration||28 October 1919|
|Elevated by||Pope Benedict XV|
|Date of elevation||13 June 1921|
|Bishops consecrated by Pope Pius XI as principal consecrator|
|Oreste Giorgi||27 April 1924|
|Michele Lega||11 July 1926|
|Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster||21 July 1929|
Pope Pius XI, born Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti (Italian pronunciation: [amˈbrɔdʒo daˈmjano aˈkille ˈratti]; 31 May 1857 – 10 February 1939), was Pope from 6 February 1922 to his death in 1939. He was the first sovereign of Vatican City from its creation as an independent state on 11 February 1929. He took as his papal motto, “Pax Christi in Regno Christi,” translated “The Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ.”
Pope Pius XI issued numerous encyclicals, including Quadragesimo Anno on the 40th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII‘s groundbreaking social encyclical Rerum Novarum, highlighting capitalistic greed of international finance, and social justice issues, and Quas Primas, establishing the feast of Christ the King. The encyclical Studiorum ducem, promulgated 29 June 1923, was written on the occasion of the 6th centenary of the canonization of Thomas Aquinas, whose thought is acclaimed as central to Catholic philosophy and theology. The encyclical also singles out the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum as the preeminent institution for the teaching of Aquinas: “ante omnia Pontificium Collegium Angelicum, ubi Thomam tamquam domi suae habitare dixeris” (before all others the Pontifical Angelicum College, where Thomas can be said to dwell).
Achille Ratti was an accomplished scholar, librarian and priest. He celebrated his 60th birthday as a priest on 31 May 1917. Less than five years later, on 6 February 1922, he was elected pope, succeeding Pope Benedict XV, who was only thirty months older and thus from the same generation as Ratti. In those five years, he had short stints as papal nuncio in Poland, in Kamionek, until being forced by the government to leave, and as Cardinal-Priest of Ss. Silvestro e Martino ai Monti and Archbishop of Milan, where he served only a few months before being elected pope.
To establish or maintain the position of the Catholic Church, he fostered and concluded a record number of concordats, including the Reichskonkordat with Germany. During his pontificate, the longstanding hostility with the Italian government over the status of the papacy and the Church in Italy was successfully resolved in the Lateran Treaty of 1929. He was unable to stop the persecution of the Church and the killing of clergy in Mexico, Spain and the Soviet Union. While in Mexico and Spain, the persecution was directed chiefly against the Catholic Church, hostility in the Soviet Union was directed against all Christians but especially against the Eastern Catholic Churches united with the Vatican. He vehemently protested against both Communism and Nazism as demeaning to human dignity and a violation of basic human rights, but heard so little support from the democracies of the West that he accused them of a “conspiracy of silence”. Against totalitarian demands, he fostered the freedom of families to determine on their own the direction of education of their children.
In one of his most important encyclicals on the social order of modern society, Quadragesimo Anno, he stated that social and economic issues are vital to the Church not from a technical point of view but in terms of moral and ethical issues involved. Ethical considerations include the nature of private property in terms of its functions for society and the development of the individual. He defined fair wages and branded the exploitation both materially and spiritually by international capitalism. He canonized important saints, including Thomas More, Petrus Canisius, Konrad von Parzham, Andrew Bobola and Don Bosco. He beatified and canonized Thérèse de Lisieux, for whom he held special reverence, and gave equivalent canonization to Albertus Magnus, naming him a Doctor of the Church due to the spiritual power of his writings.
Pius XI created the feast Christ the King in response to anti-clericalism. Pius XI took strong interests in fostering the participation of lay people throughout the Catholic Church, especially in the Catholic Action movement. The end of his pontificate was dominated by defending the Catholic Church from intrusions into Catholic life and education.
He died on 10 February 1939 in the Apostolic Palace and was buried in the grottos of Saint Peter’s Basilica.
- 1 Early life and career
- 2 Public teaching: “The Peace of Christ in the Reign of Christ”
- 3 Internal Church affairs and ecumenism
- 4 International relations
- 4.1 Relations with France
- 4.2 Relations with Italy and the Lateran Treaties
- 4.3 Relations with Germany and Austria
- 4.4 Relations with East Asia
- 4.5 Involvement with American efforts
- 4.6 Brazil
- 4.7 Persecution of Christians
- 5 Syro-Malankara Catholic Church
- 6 Condemnation of racism
- 7 Personality
- 8 Death and burial
- 9 Legacies
- 10 See also
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 External links
Early life and career
Achille Ratti was born in Desio, in the province of Milan, in 1857, the son of an owner of a silk factory. He was ordained a priest in 1879 and embarked on an academic career within the Church. He obtained three doctorates (in philosophy, canon law and theology) at the Gregorian University in Rome, and then from 1882 to 1888 was a professor at the seminary in Padua. His scholarly specialty was as an expert paleographer, a student of ancient and medieval Church manuscripts. Eventually, he left seminary teaching to work full-time at the Ambrosian Library (the Biblioteca Ambrosiana) in Milan, from 1888 to 1911.
During this time, he edited and published an edition of the Ambrosian Missal (the rite of Mass used in Milan), and researched and wrote much on the life and works of St. Charles Borromeo. He became chief of the Library in 1907 and undertook a thorough programme of restoration and re-classification of the Ambrosian’s collection. He was also an avid mountaineer in his spare time, reaching the summits of Monte Rosa, the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc and Presolana. The combination of a scholar-athlete would not be seen again until the pontificate of John Paul II. In 1911, at Pope Pius X‘s (1903–1914) invitation, he moved to the Vatican to become Vice-Prefect of the Vatican Library, and in 1914 was promoted to Prefect.
Nuncio to Poland and Expulsion
In 1918, Pope Benedict XV (1914–1922) asked him to change careers and take a diplomatic post: apostolic visitor (that is, unofficial papal representative) in Poland, a state newly restored to existence, but still under effective German and Austro-Hungarian control. In October 1918, Benedict had been the first head of state to congratulate the Polish people on the occasion of the restoration of their independence. On March 1919, he nominated ten new bishops and, soon after, upgraded Ratti’s position in Warsaw to the official position of papal nuncio. Ratti was consecrated as a titular archbishop in October 1919.
Benedict XV and Nuncio Ratti repeatedly cautioned Polish authorities against persecuting the Lithuanian and Ruthenian clergy. During the Bolshevik advance against Warsaw, the Pope asked for worldwide public prayers for Poland, while Ratti was the only foreign diplomat who showed personal courage, refusing to flee Warsaw when the Red Army was approaching the city in August 1920. On 11 June 1921, Benedict XV asked Ratti to deliver his message to the Polish episcopate, warning against political misuses of spiritual power, urging again peaceful coexistence with neighbouring people, stating that “love of country has its limits in justice and obligations”.
Ratti intended to work for Poland by building bridges to men of goodwill in the Soviet Union, even to shedding his blood for Russia. Pope Benedict XV, however, needed Ratti as a diplomat, not as a martyr, and forbade his traveling into the USSR despite his being the official papal delegate for Russia. The nuncio’s continued contacts with Russians did not generate much sympathy for him within Poland at the time. After Pope Benedict sent Ratti to Silesia to forestall potential political agitation within the Polish Catholic clergy, the nuncio was asked to leave Poland. On 20 November, when German Cardinal Adolf Bertram announced a papal ban on all political activities of clergymen, calls for Ratti’s expulsion climaxed. Ratti was asked to leave. “While he tried honestly to show himself as a friend of Poland, Warsaw forced his departure, after his neutrality in Silesian voting was questioned” by Germans and Poles. Nationalistic Germans objected to the Polish nuncio supervising local elections, and patriotic Poles were upset because he curtailed political action among the clergy.
Elevation to the papacy
In the consistory of 3 June 1921, Pope Benedict XV created three new cardinals, including Achille Ratti, who was appointed Archbishop of Milan simultaneously. The pope joked with them, saying, “Well, today I gave you the red hat, but soon it will be white for one of you.” After the Vatican celebration, Ratti went to the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino for a retreat to prepare spiritually for his new role. He accompanied Milanese pilgrims to Lourdes in August 1921. Ratti received a tumultuous welcome on a visit to his home town Desio, and was enthroned in Milan on 8 September. On 22 January 1922, Pope Benedict XV died unexpectedly of pneumonia.
At the conclave to choose a new pope, which proved to be the longest of the 20th century, the College of Cardinals was divided into two factions, one led by Rafael Merry del Val favoring the policies and style of Pope Pius X and the other favoring those of Pope Benedict XV led by Pietro Gasparri.
Gasparri approached Ratti before voting began on the third day and told him he would urge his supporters to switch their votes to Ratti, who was shocked to hear this. When it became clear that neither Gasparri nor del Val could win, the cardinals approached Ratti, thinking him a compromise candidate not identified with either faction. Cardinal Gaetano de Lai approached Ratti and was believed to have said: “We will vote for Your Eminence if Your Eminence will promise that you will not choose Cardinal Gasparri as your secretary of state”. Ratti is said to have responded: “I hope and pray that among so highly deserving cardinals the Holy Spirit selects someone else. If I am chosen, it is indeed Cardinal Gasparri whom I will take to be my secretary of state”.
Ratti was elected pope on the conclave’s fourteenth ballot on 6 February 1922 and took the name “Pius XI”, explaining that Pius IX was the pope of his youth and Pius X had appointed him head of the Vatican Library. It was rumoured that immediately after the election, he decided to appoint Pietro Gasparri as his Cardinal Secretary of State.
As his first act as pope, he revived the traditional public blessing from the balcony, Urbi et Orbi, (“to the city and to the world”), abandoned by his predecessors since the loss of Rome to the Italian state in 1870. This suggested his openness to a rapprochement with the government of Italy.
Public teaching: “The Peace of Christ in the Reign of Christ”
Pius XI’s first encyclical as pope was directly related to his aim of Christianising all aspects of increasingly secular societies. Ubi arcano, promulgated in December 1922, inaugurated the “Catholic Action” movement.
Similar goals were in evidence in his encyclicals Divini illius magistri (1929), making clear the need for Christian over secular education, and Casti Connubii (1930), praising Christian marriage and family life as the basis for any good society, condemning artificial means of contraception, but also acknowledging at the same time the unitive aspect of intercourse as licit:
- Any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.
- Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.
In contrast to some of his predecessors in the nineteenth century, who had favoured monarchy and dismissed democracy, Pius XI took a pragmatic approach toward the different forms of government. In his encyclical Dilectissima Nobis (1933), in which he addressed the situation of the Church in Republican Spain, he proclaimed, that the Church is not “bound to one form of government more than to another, provided the Divine rights of God and of Christian consciences are safe”, and specifically referred to “various civil institutions, be they monarchic or republican, aristocratic or democratic”.
Pope Pius XI
Pius XI argued for a reconstruction of economic and political life on the basis of religious values. Quadragesimo Anno (1931), was written to mark ‘forty years’ since Pope Leo XIII‘s (1878–1903) encyclical Rerum novarum, and restated that encyclical’s warnings against both socialism and unrestrained capitalism, as enemies to human freedom and dignity. Pius XI instead envisioned an economy based on co-operation and solidarity.
The Church has a role in discussing the issues related to the social order. Social and economic issues are vital to her not from a technical point of view but in terms of moral and ethical issues involved. Ethical considerations include the nature of private property. Within the Catholic Church several conflicting views had developed. Pope Pius XI declares private property essential for the development and freedom of the individual. Those who deny private property, deny personal freedom and development. But, said Pius, private property has a social function as well. Private property loses its morality, if it is not subordinated to the common good. Therefore, governments have a right to redistribution policies. In extreme cases, the Pope grants the State a right of expropriation of private property.
Capital and labour
A related issue, said Pius, is the relation between capital and labour and the determination of fair wages. Pius develops the following ethical mandate: The Church considers it a perversion of industrial society to have developed sharp opposite camps based on income. He welcomes all attempts to alleviate these differences. Three elements determine a fair wage: the worker’s family, the economic condition of the enterprise, and the economy as a whole. The family has an innate right to development, but this is only possible within the framework of a functioning economy and a sound enterprise. Thus, Pius concludes that cooperation and not conflict is a necessary condition, given the mutual interdependence of the parties involved.
Pius XI believed that industrialization results in less freedom at the individual and communal level, because numerous free social entities get absorbed by larger ones. The society of individuals becomes the mass class-society. People are much more interdependent than in ancient times, and become egoistic or class-conscious in order to save some freedom for themselves. The pope demands more solidarity, especially between employers and employees, through new forms of cooperation and communication. Pius displays a negative view of capitalism, especially of the anonymous international finance markets. He identifies certain dangers for small and medium-size enterprises, which have insufficient access to capital markets and are squeezed or destroyed by the larger ones. He warns that capitalist interests can become a danger for nations, which could be reduced to “chained slaves of individual interests”
Pius XI was the first Pope to utilise the power of modern communications technology in evangelising the wider world. He established Vatican Radio in 1931, and he was the first Pope to broadcast on radio.
Internal Church affairs and ecumenism
In his management of the Church’s internal affairs Pius XI mostly continued the policies of his predecessor. Like Benedict XV, he emphasised spreading Catholicism in Africa and Asia and on the training of native clergy in those mission territories. He ordered every religious order to devote some of its personnel and resources to missionary work.
Pius XI continued the approach of Benedict XV on the issue of how to deal with the threat of modernism in Catholic theology. The Pope was thoroughly orthodox theologically and had no sympathy with modernist ideas that relativised fundamental Catholic teachings. He condemned modernism in his writings and addresses. However, his opposition to modernist theology was by no means a rejection of new scholarship within the Church, as long as it was developed within the framework of orthodoxy and compatible with the Church’s teachings. Pius XI was interested in supporting serious scientific study within the Church, establishing the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences in 1936.
Pius XI strongly encouraged devotion to the Sacred Heart in his encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor (1928). He canonised some important saints: Bernadette Soubirous, Therese of Lisieux, John Vianney, John Fisher, Thomas More and John Bosco. He also named several new Doctors of the Church: John of the Cross, Albert the Great, Peter Canisius and Robert Bellarmine.
Pius XI was the first Pope to directly address the Christian ecumenical movement. Like Benedict XV he was interested in achieving reunion with the Eastern Orthodox (failing that, he determined to give special attention to the Eastern Catholic churches). He also allowed the dialogue between Roman Catholics and Anglicans which had been planned during Benedict XV’s pontificate to take place at Mechelen. However, these enterprises were firmly aimed at actually reuniting with the Roman Catholic Church other Christians who basically agreed with Catholic doctrine, bringing them back under Papal authority. To the broad pan-Protestant ecumenical movement he took a more negative attitude.
He condemned, in his 1928 encyclical, Mortalium Animos, the idea that Christian unity could be attained by establishing a broad federation of many bodies holding varying doctrines (the widespread view among Protestant ecumenists); rather, the Catholic Church was the one true Church, all her teachings were objectively true, and Christian unity could only be by achieved by non-Catholic denominations rejoining the Catholic Church and accepting the doctrines they had rejected.
The pontificate of Pius XI coincided with the early aftermath of the First World War. The old European monarchies had been largely swept away and a new and precarious order formed across the continent. In the East, the Soviet Union arose. In Italy, the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini took power, while in Germany, the fragile Weimar Republic collapsed with the Nazi seizure of power. His reign was one of busy diplomatic activity for the Vatican. The Church made advances on several fronts in the 1920s, improving relations with France and, most spectacularly, settling the Roman question with Italy and gaining recognition of an independent Vatican state.
Pope Pius XI’s major diplomatic approach was to make Concordats. He concluded eighteen such treaties during the course of his pontificate. However, wrote Peter Hebblethwaite, these Concordats did not prove “durable or creditable” and “wholly failed in their aim of safeguarding the institutional rights of the Church” for “Europe was entering a period in which such agreements were regarded as mere scraps of paper”.
From 1933 to 1936 Pius wrote several protests against the Nazi regime, while his attitude to Mussolini’s Italy changed dramatically in 1938, after Nazi racial policies were adopted in Italy.” Pius XI watched the rising tide of Totalitarianism with alarm and delivered three papal encyclicals challenging the new creeds: against Italian Fascism Non abbiamo bisogno (1931; ‘We do not need (to acquaint you)’); against Nazism “Mit brennender Sorge” (1937; ‘With deep concern’) and against atheist Communist Divini redemptoris (1937; ‘Divine Redeemer’). He also challenged the extremist nationalism of the Action Francaise movement and antisemitism in the United States.
Relations with France
France’s republican government had long been strongly anti-clerical. The Law of Separation of Church and State in 1905 had expelled many religious orders from France, declared all Church buildings to be government property, and had led to the closure of most Church schools. Since that time Pope Benedict XV had sought a rapprochement, but it was not achieved until the reign of Pope Pius XI. In Maximam Gravissimamque (1924) many areas of dispute were tacitly settled and a bearable coexistence made possible. In 1926 Pius XI condemned Action Française, the monarchist movement which had until this time operated with the support of a great many French Catholics. The Pope judged that it was folly for the French Church to continue to tie its fortunes to the unlikely dream of a monarchist restoration, and distrusted the movement’s tendency to defend the Catholic religion in merely utilitarian and nationalistic terms. Action Française never recovered.
Relations with Italy and the Lateran Treaties
Pius XI aimed to end the long breach between the papacy and the Italian government and to gain recognition once more of the sovereign independence of the Holy See. Most of the Papal States had been seized by the forces of King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy (1861–1878) in 1860 at the foundation of the modern unified Italian state, and the rest, including Rome, in 1870. The Papacy and the Italian Government had been at loggerheads ever since: the Popes had refused to recognise the Italian state’s seizure of the Papal States, instead withdrawing to become prisoners in the Vatican, and the Italian government’s policies had always been anti-clerical. Now Pius XI thought a compromise would be the best solution.
To bolster his own new regime, Benito Mussolini was also eager for an agreement. After years of negotiation, in 1929, the Pope supervised the signing of the Lateran Treaties with the Italian government. According to the terms of the first treaty, Vatican City was given sovereignty as an independent nation in return for the Vatican relinquishing its claim to the former territories of the Papal States. Pius XI thus became a head of state (albeit the smallest state in the world), the first Pope who could be termed as such since the Papal States fell after the unification of Italy in the 19th century. The Concordat of 1929 made Catholicism the sole religion of the state (although other religions were tolerated), paid salaries to priests and bishops, recognized church marriages (previously couples had to have a civil ceremony), and brought religious instruction into the public schools. In turn, the bishops swore allegiance to the Italian state, which had a veto power over their selection. The Church was not officially obligated its support the Fascist regime; the strong differences remained, but the seething hostility ended. The Church especially endorsed foreign policies, such as support for the anti-Communist side in the Spanish Civil War, and support for the conquest of Ethiopia. Friction continued over the Catholic Action youth network, which Mussolini wanted to merge into his Fascist youth group.
A third agreement paid the Vatican 1750 million lira (about $100 million) for the seizures of church property since 1860. Pius XI invested the money in the stock markets and real estate. To manage these investments, the Pope appointed the lay-person Bernadino Nogara, who, through shrewd investing in stocks, gold, and futures markets, significantly increased the Catholic Church’s financial holdings. The income largely paid for the upkeep of the expensive-to-maintain stock of historic buildings in the Vatican which previously had been maintained through funds raised from the Papal States up until 1870.
The Vatican’s relationship with Mussolini’s government deteriorated drastically after 1930 as Mussolini’s totalitarian ambitions began to impinge more and more on the autonomy of the Church. For example, the Fascists tried to absorb the Church’s youth groups. In response, Pius issued the encyclical Non Abbiamo Bisogno (“We Have No Need)” in 1931. It denounced the regime’s persecution of the church in Italy and condemned “pagan worship of the State.” It also condemned Fascism’s “revolution which snatches the young from the Church and from Jesus Christ, and which inculcates in its own young people hatred, violence and irreverence.”
From the earliest days of the Nazi takeover in Germany, the Vatican was taking diplomatic action to attempt to defend the Jews of Germany. In the spring of 1933, Pope Pius XI urged Mussolini to ask Hitler to restrain the antisemitic actions taking place in Germany. Mussolini urged Pius to excommunicate Hitler,[when?] as he thought it would render him less powerful in Catholic Austria and reduce the danger to Italy and wider Europe. The Vatican refused to comply and thereafter, Mussolini began to work with Hitler, adopting his anti-semitic and race theories. In 1936, with the Church in Germany facing clear persecution, Italy and Germany agreed the Berlin-Rome Axis.
Relations with Germany and Austria
A threatening, though initially mainly sporadic persecution of the Catholic Church in Germany followed the 1933 Nazi takeover in Germany. In the dying days of the Weimar Republic, the newly appointed Chancellor Adolf Hitler moved quickly to eliminate Political Catholicism. Vice Chancellor Franz von Papen was dispatched to Rome to negotiate a Reich concordat with the Holy See. Ian Kershaw wrote that the Vatican was anxious to reach agreement with the new government, despite “continuing molestation of Catholic clergy, and other outrages committed by Nazi radicals against the Church and its organisations”. Negotiations were conducted by Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII (1939–1958). The Reichskonkordat was signed by Pacelli and by the German government in June 1933, and included guarantees of liberty for the Church, independence for Catholic organisations and youth groups, and religious teaching in schools. The treaty was an extension of existing concordats already signed with Prussia and Bavaria, but wrote Hebblethwaite, it seemed “more like a surrender than anything else: it involved the suicide of the Centre Party… “.
“The agreement”, wrote William Shirer, “was hardly put to paper before it was being broken by the Nazi Government”. On 25 July, the Nazis promulgated their sterilization law, an offensive policy in the eyes of the Catholic Church. Five days later, moves began to dissolve the Catholic Youth League. Clergy, nuns and lay leaders began to be targeted, leading to thousands of arrests over the ensuing years, often on trumped up charges of currency smuggling or “immorality”.
In February 1936, Hitler sent Pius a telegram congratulating the Pope on the anniversary of his coronation, but he responded with criticisms of what was happening in Germany, so much so that von Neurath, the foreign secretary, wanted to suppress it, but Pius insisted it be forwarded.
The pope supported the Christian Socialists in Austria, a country with a majority Catholic population but a powerful secular element. He especially supported the regime of Engelbert Dollfuss (1932–34), who wanted to remold society based on papal encyclicals. Dollfuss suppressed the anti-clerical elements and the socialists, but was assassinated by the Austrian Nazis in 1934. His successor Kurt von Schuschnigg (1934–38) was also pro-Catholic and received Vatican support. The Anschluss saw the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in early 1938. Austria was overwhelmingly Catholic.
At the direction of Cardinal Innitzer, the churches of Vienna pealed their bells and flew swastikas for Hitler’s arrival in the city on 14 March. However, wrote Mark Mazower, such gestures of accommodation were “not enough to assuage the Austrian Nazi radicals, foremost among them the young Gauleiter Globocnik“. Globocnik launched a crusade against the Church, and the Nazis confiscated property, closed Catholic organisations and sent many priests to Dachau. Anger at the treatment of the Church in Austria grew quickly and October 1938, wrote Mazower, saw the “very first act of overt mass resistance to the new regime”, when a rally of thousands left Mass in Vienna chanting “Christ is our Fuehrer”, before being dispersed by police. A Nazi mob ransacked Cardinal Innitzer’s residence, after he had denounced Nazi persecution of the Church. The American National Catholic Welfare Conference wrote that Pope Pius, “again protested against the violence of the Nazis, in language recalling Nero and Judas the Betrayer, comparing Hitler with Julian the Apostate.”
Syllabus against racism
In April 1938, at the request of Pius XI, the Sacred Congregation of seminaries and universities developed a syllabus condemning racist theories. Its publication is postponed.
Mit brennender Sorge
The Nazis claimed jurisdiction over all collective and social activity, interfering with Catholic schooling, youth groups, workers’ clubs and cultural societies. By early 1937, the church hierarchy in Germany, which had initially attempted to co-operate with the new government, had become highly disillusioned. In March, Pope Pius XI issued the Mit brennender Sorge encyclical – accusing the Nazi Government of violations of the 1933 Concordat, and further that it was sowing the “tares of suspicion, discord, hatred, calumny, of secret and open fundamental hostility to Christ and His Church”. The Pope noted on the horizon the “threatening storm clouds” of religious wars of extermination over Germany.
Copies had to be smuggled into Germany so they could be read from their pulpits The encyclical, the only one ever written in German, was addressed to German bishops and was read in all parishes of Germany. The actual writing of the text is credited to Munich Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber and to the Cardinal Secretary of State, Eugenio Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII.
There was no advance announcement of the encyclical, and its distribution was kept secret in an attempt to ensure the unhindered public reading of its contents in all the Catholic Churches of Germany. This encyclical condemned particularly the paganism of National Socialist ideology, the myth of race and blood, and fallacies in the Nazi conception of God:
Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community – however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things – whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds.”
Response of the press and governments
While numerous German Catholics, who participated in the secret printing and distribution of the encyclical Mit brennender Sorge, went to jail and concentration camps, the Western democracies remained silent, which Pope Pius XI labeled bitterly a “conspiracy of silence”. As the extreme nature of Nazi racial anti-Semitism became obvious, and as Mussolini in the late 1930s began imitating Hitler’s anti-Jewish race laws in Italy, Pius XI continued to make his position clear, both in Mit brennender Sorge and after fascist Italy’s Manifesto of Race was published, in a public address in the Vatican to Belgian pilgrims in 1938: “Mark well that in the Catholic Mass, Abraham is our Patriarch and forefather. Anti-Semitism is incompatible with the lofty thought which that fact expresses. It is a movement with which we Christians can have nothing to do. No, no, I say to you it is impossible for a Christian to take part in anti-Semitism. It is inadmissible. Through Christ and in Christ we are the spiritual progeny of Abraham. Spiritually, we [Christians] are all Semites” These comments were neither reported by Osservatore Romano or Vatican Radio. They were reported in Belgium in 14 September 1938 issue of La Libre Belgique and in 17 September 1938 issue of French Roman Catholic daily La Croix. They were then published worldwide but had little resonance at the time in the secular media. The “conspiracy of silence” included not only the silence of secular powers against the horrors of National Socialism but also their silence on the persecution of the Church in the Soviet Union, Mexico, and Spain. Despite these public comments, Pius was reported to have suggested privately that the Church’s problems in those three countries were “reinforced by the anti-Christian spirit of Judaism”.
When the newly installed Nazi Government began to instigate its program of antisemitism, Pope Pius ordered the Papal Nuncio in Berlin, Cesare Orsenigo, to “look into whether and how it may be possible to become involved” in their aid. Orsenigo proved a poor instrument in this regard, concerned more with the anti-church policies of the Nazis and how these might effect German Catholics, than with taking action to help German Jews.
On 11 November 1938, following Kristallnacht, Pope Pius XI joined Western leaders in condemning the pogrom. In response, the Nazis organised mass demonstrations against Catholics and Jews in Munich, and the Bavarian Gauleiter Adolf Wagner declared before 5,000 protesters: “Every utterance the Pope makes in Rome is an incitement of the Jews throughout the world to agitate against Germany”. On 21 November, in an address to the world’s Catholics, the Pope rejected the Nazi claim of racial superiority, and insisted instead that there was only a single human race. Robert Ley, the Nazi Minister of Labour declared the following day in Vienna: “No compassion will be tolerated for the Jews. We deny the Pope’s statement that there is but one human race. The Jews are parasites.” Catholic leaders, including Cardinal Schuster of Milan, Cardinal van Roey in Belgium and Cardinal Verdier in Paris, backed the Pope’s strong condemnation of Kristallnacht.
Relations with East Asia
Under Pius XI, Papal relations with East Asia were marked by the rise of the Japanese Empire to prominence, as well as the unification of China under Chiang Kai-Shek. In 1922 he established the position of Apostolic Delegate to China, and the first person in that capacity was Celso Benigno Luigi Costantini. On 1 August 1928, the Pope addressed a message of support for the political unification of China. Following the Japanese invasion of North China in 1931 and the creation of Manchukuo, the Holy See recognized the new state. On 10 September 1938, the Pope held a reception at Castel Gandolfo for an official delegation from Manchukuo, headed by Manchukuoan Minister of Foreign Affairs Han Yun.
Involvement with American efforts
Mother Katharine Drexel, who founded the American order of Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People, corresponded with Pius XI, as she had with his papal predecessors. (In 1887, Pope Leo XIII had encouraged Katharine Drexel—then a young Philadelphia socialite— to do missionary work with America’s disadvantaged people of color). In the early 1930s, Mother Drexel wrote Pius XI asking him to bless a publicity campaign to acquaint white Catholics with the needs of these disadvantaged races among them. An emissary had shown him photos of Xavier University, New Orleans, LA, which Mother Drexel had established to educate African-Americans at the highest level in the USA. Pius XI replied promptly, sending his blessing and encouragement. Upon his return, the emissary told Mother Katharine that the Pope said he had read the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a boy, and it had ignited his lifelong concern for the American Negro.
Persecution of Christians
Pius XI was faced with unprecedented persecution of the Catholic Church in Mexico and Spain and with the persecution of all Christians especially the Eastern Catholic Churches in the Soviet Union. He called this the “terrible triangle”.
Worried by the persecution of Christians in the Soviet Union, Pius XI mandated Berlin nuncio Eugenio Pacelli to work secretly on diplomatic arrangements between the Vatican and the Soviet Union. Pacelli negotiated food shipments for Russia and met with Soviet representatives, including Foreign Minister Georgi Chicherin, who rejected any kind of religious education and the ordination of priests and bishops, but offered agreements without the points vital to the Vatican. Despite Vatican pessimism and a lack of visible progress, Pacelli continued the secret negotiations, until Pius XI ordered them discontinued in 1927, because they generated no results and would be dangerous to the Church, if made public.
The “harsh persecution short of total annihilation of the clergy, monks, and nuns and other people associated with the Church”, continued well into the 1930s. In addition to executing and exiling many clerics, monks and laymen, the confiscating of Church implements “for victims of famine” and the closing of churches were common. Yet according to an official report based on the Census of 1936, some 55% of Soviet citizens identified themselves openly as religious.
During the pontificate of Pius XI, the Catholic Church was subjected to extreme persecutions in Mexico, which resulted in the death of over 5,000 priests, bishops and followers. In the state of Tabasco the Church was in effect outlawed altogether. In his encyclical Iniquis Afflictisque from 18 November 1926, Pope Pius protested against the slaughter and persecution. The United States intervened in 1929 and moderated an agreement. The persecutions resumed in 1931. Pius XI condemned the Mexican government again in his 1932 encyclical Acerba Animi. Problems continued with reduced hostilities until 1940, when in the new pontificate of Pope Pius XII President Manuel Ávila Camacho returned the Mexican churches to the Catholic Church.
There were 4,500 Mexican priests serving the Mexican people before the rebellion, in 1934, over 90% of them suffered persecution as only 334 priests were licensed by the government to serve fifteen million people. Excluding foreign religious, over 4,100 Mexican priests were eliminated by emigration, expulsion and assassination. By 1935, 17 Mexican states were left with no priests at all.
The Republican government which came to power in Spain in 1931 was strongly anti-clerical, secularising education, prohibiting religious education in the schools, and expelling the Jesuits from the country. On Pentecost 1932, Pope Pius XI protested against these measures and demanded restitution.
Syro-Malankara Catholic Church
Pope Pius XI accepted the Reunion Movement of Mar Ivanios along with four other members of the Malankara Orthodox Church in 1930. As a result of the Reunion Movement, the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church is in full communion with the Bishop of Rome and the Catholic Church.
Condemnation of racism
The fascist government in Italy abstained from copying Germany’s racial and anti-Semitic laws and regulations until 1938, when Italy introduced anti-Semitic legislation. The Pope publicly asked Italy to abstain from demeaning racist legislation, stating that the term “race” is divisive but may be appropriate to differentiate animals. The Catholic view would refer to “the unity of human society”, which includes as many differences as music includes intonations. Italy, a civilized country, should not ape the barbarian German legislation, he said. In the same speech, he criticized the Italian government for attacking Catholic Action and even the papacy itself. Qui mange du Pape, en meurt – who eats from the pope, is dead! In one historian’s view:
By the time of his death … Pius XI had managed to orchestrate a swelling chorus of Church protests against the racial legislation and the ties that bound Italy to Germany. He had single-mindedly continued to denounce the evils of the nazi regime at every possible opportunity and feared above all else the re-opening of the rift between Church and State in his beloved Italy. He had, however, few tangible successes. There had been little improvement in the position of the Church in Germany and there was growing hostility to the Church in Italy on the part of the fascist regime. Almost the only positive result of the last years of his pontificate was a closer relationship with the liberal democracies and yet, even this was seen by many as representing a highly partisan stance on the part of the Pope. In the age of appeasement, the pugnacious obstinancy of Pius XI was held to be contributing more to the polarization of Europe than to its pacification. These reservations about the wisdom of Pius XI’s policies were held by his closest and most loyal collaborator, Cardinal Pacelli … Yet the policies followed by Pius XII soon proved to be very different from those of Pius XI. At heart, Pacelli … was an appeaser. Pius XII rejected his predecessor’s combative stance against the nazi and fascist regimes in favour of a politically disinterested position from which the Pope could act as a mediator to ensure European peace. Only if the papacy had an open and friendly relationship with all the great powers, could the Pope use his influence for the resolution of conflicts and the avoidance of war.
Humani Generis Unitas
Pius XI commissioned an encyclical Humani Generis Unitas (The Unity of the Human Race) to denounce racism in the US, Europe and elsewhere, as well as antisemitism, colonialism and violent German nationalism. He died without promulgating it.
Pius XI’s successor, Pope Pius XII, who was not aware of the text before the death of his predecessor, chose not to publish it. His first encyclical Summi Pontificatus (“On the Supreme Pontificate”, 12 October 1939), published after the beginning of World War II, bore the sub-title On the Unity of Human Society and used many of the arguments of the document drafted for Pius XI, while avoiding its negative characterizations of the Jewish people.
Pius XI was seen as a blunt-spoken and no-nonsense man and those were qualities he shared with Pope Pius X. He was passionate about science and was fascinated with the power of radio, which would soon result in the founding and inauguration of Vatican Radio. He was intrigued by new forms of technology which he employed during his pontificate. He was also known for a rare smile.
Pius XI was known to have a temper at times and was someone who had a keen sense of knowledge and dignity of the office he held. He insisted that he ate alone with no one around him and would not allow his assistants or any other priests of other clergy to dine with him. He would frequently meet with political figures but would always greet them seated. He insisted that when his brother and sister wanted to see him, they had to refer to him as “Your Holiness” and book an appointment.
Pius XI was also a very demanding individual, certainly one of the stricter pontiffs at that time. He held very high standards and he did not tolerate any sort of behaviour that was not up to that standard. In regards to Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, a small blunder in Bulgaria where Roncalli was stationed led Pius XI to make Roncalli kneel for 45 minutes as a punishment.
Death and burial
Pope Pius XI had been ill for some time when, on 25 November 1938, he suffered two heart attacks within several hours. He had serious breathing problems and could not leave his apartment. He gave his last major pontifical address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which he had founded, speaking without a prepared text on the relation between science and the Catholic religion. Medical specialists reported that heart insufficiency combined with bronchial attacks had hopelessly complicated his already poor prospects.
Pope Pius XI died at 5:31 am (Rome Time) of a third heart attack on 10 February 1939, at the age of 82. His last words to those near him at the time of his death were spoken with clarity and firmness: “My soul parts from you all in peace.” Some believe he was murdered, based on the fact that his primary physician was Dr. Francesco Petacci, father of Claretta Petacci, Mussolini’s mistress. Following a funeral was buried in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica on 14 February 1939, in the main chapel, close to the tomb of St. Peter. His tomb was modified in 1944 to be more ornate.
Pius XI will be remembered as the pope who reigned between the two great wars of the 20th century. The onetime librarian also reorganized the Vatican archives. Nevertheless, Pius XI was hardly a withdrawn and bookish figure. He was also a well-known mountain climber with many peaks in the Alps named after him, he having been the first to scale them.
Pius XI also refounded the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1936, with the aim of turning it into the “scientific senate” of the Church. Hostile to any form of ethnic or religious discrimination, he appointed over eighty Academicians from a variety of countries, backgrounds and areas of research. In his honour, John XXIII established the Pius XI Medal that the Council of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences awards to a young scientist under the age of 45 who has distinguished himself or herself at the international level.
The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church founded a school in his name in Kattanam, Mavelikkara, Kerala, Pope Pius XI Higher Secondary School, Kattanam.
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- Pope Benedict XVI opens the Archives for the pontificate (1922–1939) of Pope Pius XI – VATICAN CITY, 2 July 2006 “…researchers will be able to consult all the documents of the period kept in the different series of archives of the Holy See, primarily in the Vatican Secret Archives and the Archive of the Second Section of the Secretariat of State….”
- Achille Ratti climbing club
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|Catholic Church titles|
|Archbishop of Milan
13 June 1921 – 6 February 1922
6 February 1922 – 10 February 1939
|New title||Sovereign of the State of Vatican City
11 February 1929 – 10 February 1939
|Awards and achievements|
|Cover of Time Magazine
16 June 1924
Hiram W. Evans
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