(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Breaking with tradition, Pope Pius XI chose to issue his encyclical Mit brennender Sorge in German rather than Latin. It is addressed to the German Catholic bishops but is clearly and obliquely aimed at the German government. He writes that he has heard directly from bishops and their representatives of how the faithful are standing against repression, but also how so many are being led astray—clearly a reference to the atheistic Hitler Youth program. Pius goes on to review how the 1933 Concordat, an agreement between the German government and the Vatican that was desired by the German bishops themselves, was meant to allow the peaceful and unfettered work of the Catholic Church in Germany. Now, he says, it has become clear that the German government was deceitful about its motives and that the Nazis—a name never used—“from the outset aimed only at a war of extermination,” a “religious war” against Catholicism. All the Church sought was peace, Pius stresses, and to that end he adhered to the letter and spirit of every treaty and agreement. He decided to keep quiet, however, until the pattern of repression was manifest to all. Recent moves against Catholic schools, a clear concordant violation, were but the latest outrage, so he says he decided to speak out.

Pope Pius tells the German bishops that the Nazi attempts to reestablish pagan religion and to lower God to worldly status and raise themselves to the divine are acts that show their disdain for God. The bishops’ flocks need to be reminded that all are subject to God’s universal law and be dissuaded from submitting to godless nationalism. He urges the bishops to resist openly blasphemers and “aggressive paganism.” Christ’s Gospel must be taught, and the Old Testament must also be defended from anti-Semitic attacks by those blinded by “ignorance and pride.” He tacitly attacks Adolf Hitler’s cult of personality by holding up Christ as the only and ultimate focus of faith. To maintain that faith “pure and unalloyed,” the Church is necessary. This “divine structure, which stands on eternal foundations” has a mission with which no human organization dare interfere (though the Nazis do). At the...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Cornwall, John. Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII. New York: Penguin, 2000. Highly controversial study that criticizes Pius XII for his failure to confront or condemn the Nazi state; downplays the importance of Pius XI’s earlier work.

Godman, Peter. Hitler and the Vatican: Inside the Secret Archives That Reveal the New Story of the Nazis and the Church. New York: Free Press, 2004. Another controversial work based on a rather narrow reading of relevant sources and underestimation of the brutality of the Nazi regime.

Lewy, Guenther. The Catholic Church and Nazi Germany. New York: Da Capo Press, 2000. Fairly even-handed treatment of the relationship of the Nazi regime with the Catholic hierarchy in Germany and the Vatican.

Olf, Lillian. Their Name Is Pius: Portraits of Five Great Modern Popes. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries, 1970. Contains a biography of Pius XI and other popes, including Pius XII, pope during World War II.

Teeling, William. The Pope in Politics: The Life and Work of Pope Pius XI. London: L. Dickson, 1937. A British Catholic journalist suggests that the pope opposed changes in Catholicism as it was developing in the United States. Examines the pope in relation to politics.