Skip links

Pius XI, Saint Joseph, and Joseph Stalin

Pope Pius XI in photograph taken on December 31, 1929 by Alberto Felici [Wikipedia]

Eighty years ago this week, Pope Pius XI issued two encyclicals condemning two of the most brutal regimes in history: Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.  Pius released Mit Brennender Sorge (“On the Church and the German Reich”) on March 14, 1937 (which was smuggled into Germany and read from pulpits on March 21, Palm Sunday), and Divini Redemptoris (“On Atheistic Communism”) on March 19, 1937 (the Feast of St. Joseph).  They were issued when Hitler’s war machine and Stalin’s reign of terror were in full gear.  (Six years earlier, he issued an encyclical condemning Italian fascism).  Pius exemplified heroic courage by speaking truth to power in an age of dictatorships.

In Mit Brennender Sorge, Pius directly confronted the neo-pagan and racist ideology of the Nazis.  He wrote that only “superficial minds” lock God “within the narrow limits of a single race.”  Christians “deny their faith in the real Christ” if they deny that the Old Testament is “exclusively the word of God” and a “substantial part of his revelation.”  The Torah shows that creation was not merely the product of an impersonal force such as necessity or chance.  Each and every human being is created by the free act of a loving God, and endowed with a spirit capable of reflection and free choice.  The Jewish scriptures show the unfolding of God’s promise of salvation to the chosen people, which is fulfilled in Christ for all.  In 1938, Pius reaffirmed that “spiritually, we are Semites.”

Benedict XVI lived through this same period in Germany, and later wrote that the “decisive no to all racism” is the teaching of Genesis that every person, without exception, is formed with God’s spirit, in God’s image, and from the one earth.  Since everyone is fashioned from the same earth, “there is only one humanity in the many human beings” and “not different kinds of ‘blood and soil,’ to use a Nazi slogan.”

Read more at…

Share with Friends: