Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Clearly Pius is addressing the essential conflict between the Christian life and that demanded by an aggressively secular and antireligious state and society. It is an ancient theme addressed directly by Jesus in the Gospels, and Pius at least tacitly places the German Church’s situation in this broader historical context. Like the emperors of old, Hitler and his followers were seeking to replace true religion with a false substitute, in this case based on race, nation, and a cult of personality, and Pius urges clergy and laity alike to resist any and all attempts to diminish the Church and its authority in favor of this false Nazi creation. Pius’s concerns for both a national church, which would have been a slave to Nazi ideology, and the substitution of Christian education with secular reflect the power of German state to take the place of Catholicism—where it was dominant—and to twist its values and meanings in accord with its totalitarian perversions. Resistance meant sacrifice, again a biblical value, ranging from unpopularity to death.

Pius emphasizes the freedom of Christians and their conscience, and he marks the vileness of the German state in its growing unwillingness to allow for this. However, Christian freedom also requires its exercise in close personal adherence to God’s law and in an active unwillingness to compromise in the public sphere. In a corrupted state, the Christian has a special duty to maintain a clear conscience and act in consonance with it. The pope speaks with special force to the German pastors, who directly suffered both seduction and persecution as the state tried to wrest the cure of souls from their hands. Church leaders had a special duty to remain blameless and set the proper tone for Christian existence in an openly hostile society.