“Humility in the spirit of the Gospel and prayer for the assistance of grace are perfectly compatible with self-confidence and heroism.
The Church of Christ, which throughout the ages and to the present day numbers more confessors and voluntary martyrs than any other moral collectivity, needs lessons from no one in heroism of feeling and action.”
-Pope Pius XI, On the Church and the Third Reich, 1937
On March 14th, 1937, exactly 75 years ago, Pope Pius XI had written a encyclical to his brethren entitled, On the Church and the Third Reich. As Jimmy Akins once said, it is a real gem. The Holy Father writes to his brethren in Germany, knowing full well what is at stake for those Germans who refused to bend their knees to Adolph Hitler and his Third Reich. Bishop of Munster, Clemens von Galen, was one of many heroic and outspoken critics of Hitler. It was to bishops like him this letter from Pius XI was addressed.
This encyclical is valuable because it represents a mentality of spiritual leadership which was resolute, confident and articulate. It also speaks to the absolute determination to uncompromisingly proclaim the supremacy of Christ and denounce an all-powerful State which seeks to replace Him.
The wonderful thing about the Catholic Faith is that it can draw wisdom and even strength from previous decades and centuries. It would seem that the Catholic Church in the 21st century can use a little dose of that heroism and manliness Pope Pius XI makes reference to throughout his encyclical.
Excerpts: On the Church and the Third Reich
Refuting German Paganism:
The believer in God is not he who utters the name in his speech, but he for whom this sacred word stands for a true and worthy concept of the Divinity. Whoever identifies, by pantheistic confusion, God and the universe, by either lowering God to the dimensions of the world, or raising the world to the dimensions of God, is not a believer in God. Whoever follows that so-called pre-Christian Germanic conception of substituting a dark and impersonal destiny for the personal God, denies thereby the Wisdom and Providence of God who "Reaches from end to end mightily, and orders all things sweetly" (Wisdom viii. 1). Neither is he a believer in 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.
None but superficial minds could stumble into concepts of a national God, of a national religion; or attempt to lock within the frontiers of a single people, within the narrow limits of a single race, God, the Creator of the universe, King and Legislator of all nations before whose immensity they are "as a drop of a bucket" (Isaiah xI, 15).
As God's sun shines on every human face so His law knows neither privilege nor exception. Rulers and subjects, crowned and uncrowned, rich and poor are equally subject to His word. From the fullness of the Creators' right there naturally arises the fullness of His right to be obeyed by individuals and communities, whoever they are.
It Begins in the School:
Whoever wishes to see banished from church and school the Biblical history and the wise doctrines of the Old Testament, blasphemes the name of God, blasphemes the Almighty's plan of salvation, and makes limited and narrow human thought the judge of God's designs over the history of the world: he denies his faith in the true Christ, such as He appeared in the flesh, the Christ who took His human nature from a people that was to crucify Him; and he understands nothing of that universal tragedy of the Son of God who to His torturer's sacrilege opposed the divine and priestly sacrifice of His redeeming death, and made the new alliance the goal of the old alliance, its realization and its crown.
Scandal: Failure to Speak Up
Those who know the Savior's words on scandal and the giver of scandals, know, too, the judgment which the Church and all her sons must pronounce on what was and what is sin. But if, besides these reprehensible discrepancies be between faith and life, acts and words, exterior conduct and interior feelings, however numerous they be, anyone overlooks the overwhelming sum of authentic virtues, of spirit of sacrifice, fraternal love, heroic efforts of sanctity, he gives evidence of deplorable blindness and injustice. If later he forgets to apply the standard of severity, by which he measures the Church he hates, to other organizations in which he happens to be interested, then his appeal to an offended sense of purity identifies him with those who, for seeing the mote in their brother's eye, according to the Savior's incisive words, cannot see the beam in their own.
We can command: it is not enough to be a member of the Church of Christ, one needs to be a living member, in spirit and in truth, i.e., living in the state of grace and in the presence of God, either in innocence or in sincere repentance. If the Apostle of the nations, the vase of election, chastised his body and brought it into subjection: lest perhaps, when he had preached to others, he himself should become a castaway (1 Cor. ix. 27), could anybody responsible for the extension of the Kingdom of God claim any other method but personal sanctification? Only thus can we show to the present generation, and to the critics of the Church that "the salt of the earth," the leaven of Christianity has not decayed, but is ready to give the men of today -- prisoners of doubt and error, victims of indifference, tired of their Faith and straying from God -- the spiritual renewal they so much need. A Christianity which keeps a grip on itself, refuses every compromise with the world, takes the commands of God and the Church seriously, preserves its love of God and of men in all its freshness, such a Christianity can be, and will be, a model and a guide to a world which is sick to death and clamors for directions, unless it be condemned to a catastrophe that would baffle the imagination.
Reform and Zeal:
Every true and lasting reform has ultimately sprung from the sanctity of men who were driven by the love of God and of men. Generous, ready to stand to attention to any call from God, yet confident in themselves because confident in their vocation, they grew to the size of beacons and reformers. On the other hand, any reformatory zeal, which instead of springing from personal purity, flashes out of passion, has produced unrest instead of light, destruction instead of construction, and more than once set up evils worse than those it was out to remedy. No doubt "the Spirit breatheth where he will" (John iii. 8): "of stones He is able to raise men to prepare the way to his designs" (Matt. iii. 9). He chooses the instruments of His will according to His own plans, not those of men.
Heroism and Complete Fidelity:
Our wholehearted paternal sympathy goes out to those who must pay so dearly for their loyalty to Christ and the Church; but directly the highest interests are at stake, with the alternative of spiritual loss, there is but one alternative left, that of heroism. If the oppressor offers one the Judas bargain of apostasy he can only, at the cost of every worldly sacrifice, answer with Our Lord: "Begone, Satan! For it is written: The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and Him only shalt thou serve" (Matt. iv. 10). And turning to the Church, he shall say: "Thou, my mother since my infancy, the solace of my life and advocate at my death, may my tongue cleave to my palate if, yielding to worldly promises or threats, I betray the vows of my baptism." As to those who imagine that they can reconcile exterior infidelity to one and the same Church, let them hear Our Lord's warning: -- "He that shall deny me before men shall be denied before the angels of God" (Luke xii. 9).
The cross of Christ, though it has become to many a stumbling block and foolishness (1 Cor. i. 23) remains for the believer the holy sign of his redemption, the emblem of moral strength and greatness. We live in its shadow and die in its embrace. It will stand on our grave as a pledge of our faith and our hope in the eternal light.
Humility in the spirit of the Gospel and prayer for the assistance of grace are perfectly compatible with self-confidence and heroism. The Church of Christ, which throughout the ages and to the present day numbers more confessors and voluntary martyrs than any other moral collectivity, needs lessons from no one in heroism of feeling and action.
The State, Faith and Morality:
All efforts to remove from under morality and the moral order the granite foundation of faith and to substitute for it the shifting sands of human regulations, sooner or later lead these individuals or societies to moral degradation. The fool who has said in his heart "there is no God" goes straight to moral corruption (Psalms xiii. 1), and the number of these fools who today are out to sever morality from religion, is legion. They either do not see or refuse to see that the banishment of confessional Christianity, i.e., the clear and precise notion of Christianity, from teaching and education, from the organization of social and political life, spells spiritual spoliation and degradation. No coercive power of the State, no purely human ideal, however noble and lofty it be, will ever be able to make shift of the supreme and decisive impulses generated by faith in God and Christ.
If the man, who is called to the hard sacrifice of his own ego to the common good, loses the support of the eternal and the divine, that comforting and consoling faith in a God who rewards all good and punishes all evil, then the result of the majority will be, not the acceptance, but the refusal of their duty. The conscientious observation of the ten commandments of God and the precepts of the Church (which are nothing but practical specifications of rules of the Gospels) is for every one an unrivaled school of personal discipline, moral education and formation of character, a school that is exacting, but not to excess. A merciful God, who as Legislator, says -- Thou must! -- also gives by His grace the power to will and to do.
To let forces of moral formation of such efficacy lie fallow, or to exclude them positively from public education, would spell religious under-feeding of a nation. To hand over the moral law to man's subjective opinion, which changes with the times, instead of anchoring it in the holy will of the eternal God and His commandments, is to open wide every door to the forces of destruction. The resulting dereliction of the eternal principles of an objective morality, which educates conscience and ennobles every department and organization of life, is a sin against the destiny of a nation, a sin whose bitter fruit will poison future generations.