(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Pope Pius XI’s message in Divini Redemptoris (also known as On Atheistic Communism) is addressed to the Church’s leadership worldwide. Pius XI states that “bolshevistic and atheistic Communism” threatens “Christian civilization” everywhere and promises a new barbarism worse than that of Jesus’ time. It aims at “upsetting the social order” and undermining Christianity’s foundations. He states that the Church cannot remain silent and must defend truth and justice.

Pius XI had already condemned communism in five encyclicals beginning in 1924 when he wrote the 1937 encyclical. In this encyclical, he relates how as early as 1846, Pius IX had condemned communism, and Leo XIII labeled it a “fatal plague.” However, from its center in Moscow, communism continues to “struggle against Christian civilization.” Bishops also have spoken out against communism, but the pope says that “clever agitators” and their “subversive ideas” only grow in influence. In the encyclical, he states that he will present communism’s most corrosive ideas, uncover its method of action, and refute its claims with the truth of the Church.

The first tenet he sets out to debunk is communism’s “false messianic” ideas of “justice, equality, and fraternity in labor.” Claims of progress merely mask exploitation of resources and industrial development unrelated to communism. The second tenet is the historical materialism articulated by Karl Marx, which has “no room for the idea of God,” no spiritual life, and no afterlife. The human-centered class struggle leading to history’s end is characterized by greed, violence, and hate. Moral restraint, dignity, and personal liberty are lost in the collectivity, and the lack of private property gives the lie to proletarian control. Marriage and the family are subsumed by the collective, and parents lose the right to educate their children. Communist idealism is utterly materialistic, atheistic, and dominated by economic concerns. The state, which is ultimately to disappear, in the meantime is given totalitarian powers. This system defies both human reason and divine revelation.

Yet, the pope says, communism has spread...

(The entire section is 907 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Ferree, William. The Act of Social Justice. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1942. Published dissertation that explores concepts of social justice as stated by Thomas Aquinas and places the Divini Redemptoris in the historical context of Catholic social philosophy.

Holland, Joe. Modern Catholic Social Teaching: The Popes Confront the Industrial Age, 1740-1958. New York: Paulist Press, 2003. Chapter on Pius XI’s “Leonine” encyclicals places Divini Redemptoris and its anticommunism in the context of papal writings against modernism, industrial warfare, and economic dictatorship.

Lerhinan, John Patrick. A Sociological Commentary on “Divini Redemptoris.” Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1946. Examination of the papal encyclical in light of the contrasting secular and Catholic social and political philosophical constructs that were emerging in the 1940’s.