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Divini Redemptoris


Divini Redemptoris, an encyclical of Pope pius xi dated March 19, 1937, establishes by its superscription De communismo atheistico and by its contents that the most fundamental objection of the Church to communism is its atheism. In the first part, after citing earlier papal pronouncements on communism beginning with a passage in the first encyclical of Pius IX, Qui pluribus, in 1846, and noting his own previous protests against persecutions in Russia, Mexico, and Spain, the pope justifies another solemn document on the subject with the observation that "the crisis, brought about by the cunning of revolutionaries, daily becomes more and more serious" (par. 6). Warnings against the deceit of communist leaders are repeated throughout the encyclical, which contains the injunction, "Since Communism is intrinsically evil, whoever wants to save Christianity and civilization from destruction must refrain from aiding it in the prosecution of any project whatever" (par. 60). In the immediate background was the success of European communists in winning the support of non-communist workers as a result of the united front policy ordered at the Seventh Congress of the Communist International in July of 1935. Their doctrine, "in the guise of a message of redemption for the poor" (par.8), was gaining hearers because of the world-wide economic depression of the time. The second part of the encyclical summarizes and condemns the communist system and movement but expresses paternal charity for the peoples of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

More than half of the encyclical, which is the only one to treat comprehensively both the theory and tactics of communism, is devoted to a restatement of Christian social principles and an urgent exhortation to various groups to rebuild Western society on them. The central ideas of Rerum novarum and Quadragesimo anno are recalled in the third part, while the fourth part insists that an effective anti-communist program must be founded upon reasonable detachment from earthly goods, the precept of charity, and the application of commutative and social justice in the solution of economic and social problems. These virtues are emphasized as correctives for the evils brought about by the unrestricted competition of international finance capitalism deplored in other social encyclicals. The exposition of social justice as demanding from the individual "everything that is necessary for the common good" (par. 52) elucidates significantly this concept, employed earlier in Quadragesimo anno. In the final part of the encyclical, Catholics in various categories are given specific advice, warned against division, and urged to cooperate with one another; further, an appeal is addressed to all who believe in God and especially to heads of governments to join with the Church under the guardianship of St. Joseph in active opposition to atheistic communism and in social reforms to prevent its spread.

Bibliography: j. p. lerhinan, A Sociological Commentary on "Divini Redemptoris" (Catholic University of America Studies in Sociology 17; Washington 1946). r. caldera, "International Social Justice in the Pontifical Documents," in Pro Fide et Iustitia (Berlin 1984) 795808.

[j. lerhinan]

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